Guest post by Tal Prince.
One of my close friends was fond of saying, “There are a lot of things that I can live without, but hope is not one of them.” Do you agree with that? Don’t be too quick to give a Sunday school answer - Do you agree that you need hope to live?
In an age of independence and self-sufficiency, it doesn’t look like anyone needs hope. A quick perusal of the lyrical content of the top pop songs in the country doesn’t scream that we need hope. They are rife with bravado and self-sufficiency, which seems to be the opposite of hope. Seriously, if I can provide everything that I need, what good is hope?
Actually, there are a few mentions of hope scattered among the current top 10 songs as of this writing, but they all boil down to “I sure hope he/she loves me or will have sex with me.” So we are self-sufficient until we want love or sex - then hope kicks in.
I’ve lived that way and still do from time to time. Like when I started to write this post - I believed for a few minutes that I could write this on my own, and I “hoped” that you would love it - and by extension, that you would love me. Maybe you can identify with that - it’s just so easy to drift into self-sufficiency, and some mutated form of false Gospel bravado.
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Drifting Away From Hope
Want to know an easy way to tell if you are drifting?
Write a gratitude list.
Yes - a gratitude list. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
My first day in rehab, I had to fill out a check-in sheet at the end of the day, and on the back of the page was a straightforward question - “What are you grateful for today?” Well, on my first day, the answer was not so great. It was honest, and it revealed where I was spiritually. I wrote, “I’m not grateful for anything.” It may, or may not have, been more colorful than that, but the point was the same. And I hate to admit it, but I was not grateful for anything at that moment.
Here’s an insider tip on therapists and treatment centers - many of us kinda judge your spiritual health partially based on the length of your gratitude list, and yes, size matters. The longer the gratitude list is, the less self-sufficiency there is, and the less self-sufficiency we see, the less selfishness we see, and that all translates into humility.
I still write gratitude lists, and there are volumes of research to support the practice. And don’t worry, writing a gratitude list does not irrevocably tie you to The Secret, or any other new age heretical practice. They stole it from our God - I promise.
What To Do When You're Grateful For...Nothing
What went through your mind when I asked you to write a gratitude list? Was your mind flooded with things for which you are grateful, or did your brain go into overdrive trying to think of something?
You probably were somewhere in-between those two poles, but you may have been like I was - honestly and wholeheartedly unable to come up with anything. Here’s something that helps me - I have to start by getting granular. Really, really granular.
I start with air.
Yep, air - because I am incapable of providing that for myself, and if God did not give it to me, I would be dead within seconds. Then I thank God for lungs and a cardiovascular system to process the oxygen and exhale the carbon dioxide that I do not need. If I am particularly stuck, I then go to the heart, blood cells, etc.,
When I do this, I am reminded of my deep dependence upon God, and I am suddenly spiritually connected in a healthy manner. I am dependent upon him, and I am hoping that He continues to provide all that I need to live.
When I am spiritually disconnected, as I was upon entering rehab, my soul was cast down and at war within me, as was the Psalmist’s in Psalm 42:5.
The answer, of course, is to hope in God and I had heard that a million times over my life, but honestly, I never knew what that really meant. I do now, and for me, that starts with gratitude.
Spiritual Health - Gratitude and...?
Spiritual health doesn’t stop there, though. Gratitude is a great starting point that begins to generate humility.
We call the next step, rest, and by that, we just mean accepting our limits.
As the prophet Harry Callahan pointed out in Magnum Force, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Do you know yours?
Again this is difficult in a world focused on independence and self-sufficiency - we all want to believe we are superheroes capable of most anything. “I’ve got this” is a cultural mantra, and flies in the face of a man knowing his limitations.
Over my years of counseling, I have seen so many pastors experiencing burn-out. It is heartbreaking. The demands of ministry are beyond unrealistic when we get right down to it, and something has to give. Our delusions of self-sufficiency co-mingle with a warped codependent Christianity that tells us that we can work 24/7 and be there for every demand from those whom we serve. For some of us, there is more than a little fear in the mix as well, as we fear letting our people down since they just may fire or begin to undermine us.
Knowing our limitations almost sounds like admitting weakness and none of us seem too down with that as a concept. Herein lies freedom - do you know what you are actually capable of on your own? Nothing. I can hear your cries of protest as I type this, but I’m simply saying what Jesus said, “apart from me, you can do nothing.” We are all wholly dependent, and that is all there is to it.
As a traveling speaker, I have this conversation with many that are determined to prove me wrong on this point and salvage some aspect of their self-sufficiency and independence. They don’t win - they can’t. Back to gratitude - I can't provide my own oxygen, so without God, there is nothing that I can do. Gratitude lays an ax to the root of the tree of self-sufficiency and cultivates humility. Like the priest in Rudy says, “I’ve come to believe two things - there is a God, and I am not him.”
The third dial on the dashboard of spiritual health for us is generosity. Generosity doesn’t mean just financially, but there are myriad ways to be generous. Are you generous? What does that look like for you? You may be asking why is generosity so important and how is it related to spiritual health?
I’ll answer that question with a question - when is a thief not a thief? You may say, “Well, when he is not stealing.” But he could still be a thief, but just on vacation from work for a bit. Ephesians 4:28 tells us, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”
Generosity is the antithesis of selfishness and self-centeredness. When we are serving and sharing with others, we are no longer thieves, and we are yielded to and empowered by God to do his perfect will.
Do you see how these three simple pieces work together?
- Gratitude - I realize who God is and am grateful for all he has given me.
- Rest - I understand who I am and that without him I can’t do anything, I can depend on him to do the work, and that allows me to rest knowing my limitations and his infinite power.
- Generosity - Knowing who he is, and who I am, I can fully yield to his will in my life, and that begins to transform my heart from selfish to selfless.
That brings us back to the fact that none of us have the power not to be selfish - and we are dependent and grateful.
Do The Next Right Thing
What do these three gauges look like on your dashboard today?
If you are like me, they will look different from day to day, and we live in the tension of being “professional ministry leaders” so we are supposed to be knocking this out of the park. Some days I do, and many days I don’t. What helps me with these is living in a community of others that can talk openly about it and God uses them to bring my focus back, and I sit down to write a gratitude list.
Let me help you start one:
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