What’s Mike Like?

The end of the year and beginning of a new one can always be a pretty introspective time. You’ll probably spend at least a few more minutes than normal thinking about what your life’s all about and what’s really important to you and what are your hopes for the next year, etc. I know I have. But what if we didn’t just keep all that introspection to ourselves? What if what you find when you look inward is something to be shared?

I have a bit of an exercise for you… Today, you can choose to rewrite the script of your life if you don’t like the one you’ve been living. Use this exercise to help you think about what kind of life you want to live. Think about what you’re really all about and make a movie trailer for your life. Make a trailer that makes you want to live the rest of the show. Post it somewhere like your own blog or Facebook, vimeo, or youtube and come back and share the link in the comments here.

Here’s mine:

Now, go gather some pictures and video clips and have fun!

When “Let Go and Let God” Goes Bad

People use the phrase “Let go and let God” to acknowledge that there are some problems that are too big to handle and there is no hope of resolution except for letting God work things out. You don’t have to live very long to experience that moment when you realize you’re in over your head and there’s nothing you can do to get out. The second day on a new job after the introductions are over and you’re expected to actually get stuff done… The first day after the honeymoon and you realize that she’s chosen to see you like this every day of the rest of her life and you should probably do something to make it worth her while… The moment you have to figure out how that car seat is supposed to fit in the back of your Prius so you can take your new bundle of sleep deprivation home… And so… “Let go and let God.”

The phrase may be sparked by good intentions to make us warm and fuzzy inside, but next time you get cut off in traffic and see it on the bumper sticker you were almost forced to rearrange, I don’t suggest taking it’s advice seriously. God can drive your car for you… but He probably won’t. You’ll probably crash, and that will cause the guy behind you to spill his Starbucks in his lap. He’ll probably have to go home to change his Dockers, which will probably make him late for that job interview he finally landed. He’s not going to get that job now, which is really unfortunate because he already told his old boss he was quitting and just leased a new boathouse counting on his signing bonus. He was letting go and letting God, too.

But it gets even worse when we use this kind of thinking to justify our own lack of effort. I’ve had one of the toughest years I’ve had in a long time and it’s tempting to just throw in the towel and hope God will sort it all out. And He can. But usually, God works through people who do work. We’ve launched some incredibly creative and gifted kingdom workers out of our youth ministry recently because God worked through our efforts to create an environment where students could connect to Jesus and figure out what He could do through them. Honestly, it would have been easier to imagine that I’m helpless and just play games and pray that God would show up and do something awesome. But instead, we bought art supplies and imagined what it would look like when He did. We dug deep into the words of God and challenged students to pass on what they learn. We encouraged kids to pick up instruments and tools and we wrote songs and tore down walls and fed the hungry together. We even played some games.

And God has shown up.

And He has changed lives like only He can.

And He was pleased to touch those lives through the lives of others who were willing to do the work He’d enabled us to do.

Could He have done it without our efforts? Of course He could have. But then His body would have missed out on the joy of fulfilling His mission – the very mission we’ve been created for!

Did we rely on our own efforts for transformation? That would have been pointless. We can’t change anybody! We pray like crazy and trust God to do through us what only He can do for them.

Maybe I’m just talking to myself here (which, I suppose is one of the perils of writing a blog without possessing any skill at self-promotion), but maybe 2013 has been a struggle for you, too. It’s almost over, though. Don’t give up. Do what you can. Try something new, then try another thing new… Keep praying for God to work and keep working hard to see what He’s doing. Then work hard to position yourself to give Him full access to every shred of effort you have and every piece of potential He’s given you.

Maybe that’s part of what Jesus meant when He said to love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. Don’t just let go and let God. Pick up the hammer or brush or towel He’s put in front of you. Hold on tight and let Him work through you.

Slow Down

We called it The Ascent, and it may have been the slowest week of ministry I’ve ever had. It also was one of the best.

I was several years into a rural student ministry in Southeast Nebraska, and I knew our summer needed something with a little different pace to it. The usual slate of summer camps and CIY conferences was fine, but before school started back up, I wanted us to just stop and breathe.

We drove across the state and met some new friends in Laramie, WY whose outdoor ministry (SROM) focuses on adventure trips and leadership development. We backpacked in the Snowy Range area and rock climbed an awe-inspiring area of granite formations called Vedauwoo.

The name Vedauwoo is a play on an old Arapaho word meaning ‘earth-born.’ I didn’t know that at the time, but it seems really appropriate now. We spent the better part of a week outside the busy lives we live, reconnecting with the One who drew mankind out of clay and breathed His own life into humanity. There were no appointments or due dates, no deadlines or classes, no countdowns or ‘game overs’… There was just God, a bunch of rocks and trees and stars, and a handful of His children learning to breathe again.

Where could you go if you slowed down and let God lead?
Where could you go if you slowed down and let God lead?

I’ve learned since that trip, that it’s critical to my ministry health to slow down from time to time and just notice God. I’m a 38 year old father of 4 who’s been in youth ministry longer than many of my current students have been alive. There’s no way I can keep up with the dozens of students I work with… but I’m also so stubborn that I’ll grind myself down trying. I need moments of quiet and even solitude to stay emotionally sane and spiritually fit. It’s in those moments of still slowing that God reminds me that I haven’t been called to keep up with my students’ frenetic scurrying from one activity to another, but to show them a healthier rhythm of living that includes slow moments in the midst of running the race set before us.

Neither have you.

But what can you do about it? How are you supposed to fight against the ever quickening current of our fast and frenzied culture?

  • First, do away with the ego telling you you’re indispensable and you have to keep going at light speed. Too often, we feed the ministry monster that over-inflates our pride and keeps us running. Let’s stop feeding it. We can’t change lives, but God can when we point students toward Him. We can’t do that if we’re so busy doing our important things that we don’t notice Him. Stop and notice.
  • Get out of your routine. Spend a morning alone outside or in a coffee shop or library. Really the place doesn’t matter; find somewhere you can just breathe and listen to your Maker.
  • Ditch the data. Leave your cell phone & tablet behind for several hours every week. We are bombarded with information so much that we let it suffocate us. A digital slow down makes room for God’s voice to break through again. There’s always one more article or post or podcast… they’ll still be there tomorrow.
  • Work hard. Wait.. what? Ok, here’s what I mean: Take time to be still, but when it’s time to pick up the plow, go forward at full speed. Lead diligently and refuse to fall into the notorious slacker caricatures that seem to stubbornly float around youth ministry. You’ll find the stillness even more refreshing when it comes in the midst of hard work.