There are a couple men who attended June's Summer Sabbath walk, all pursuers wanting more of God. One of them is this week's guest author. His name is Paul; and upon first meeting him a handful of years ago, he seemed a bit intimidating to me. I guess this was true on terms of his physical size and the serious demeanor he was carrying that day. Initially, it made me wonder how friendly he was. But it didn't take long for me to realize I had nothing to worry about. Very quickly it became clear he was self-effacing, hilarious, generous, compassionate, fiercely protective of those he loves, tuned to society's outcasts, a mold breaker, and a warrior in training. He is one who is not ashamed to seek the Father's heart and let that emotion show. He is very intent to pursue Christ and invests his life in young people in selfless ways. He adores his wife and is not afraid to push past fear to love deeply. I'm honored to be his friend. Hope you enjoy reading Paul in the way he shares about the exhausting burden God was prompting him to release to Jesus. May you come to the last and final event for summer to release the burden you are carrying! Sign up on the calendar page!
A Heavy Burden or a New Heart: You Choose, by Paul Stack
Many people I know get a bad taste in their mouth when the word “church” comes up, and that bad taste usually results from bad relationships. These people had an ugly experience with a church member or staff, and decided they wanted to get out and not return. Peter Scazzero, a well known pastor in New York City and author of "Emotionally Healthy Spirituality", faced this problem many times with his congregation and in his own life. In a video session about his book, he shares his struggle of leading a growing church: “People were changing, but they weren’t changing deeply. Deep beneath the surface was not changing.... Something was deeply wrong. People who called themselves ‘Christians’ were not enjoyable to be around and often judgmental.”
Overtime, he began to realize that if he didn’t develop a way for himself and the church to be deeply transformed, the church was going to die, as was his soul. He was internally spent, tense, on-edge, and dealing poorly with family and church relationships. As he became more clear of what was at stake, he came to believe that the church in America will die out if the members inside the church don’t learn to love deeply. He also came to believe that only way to learn to love deeply was to develop a rich interior life.
Scazzero’s conclusions ring true for me, and that is why I believe in the mission of the “Into the Waters” ministry. Gina’s gift of a Summer Sabbath Walk experience was a wonderful tool to help grow my connection with God and to develop my love for him and others.
During the Sabbath Walk, we began the day with a guided meditation while walking around a gorgeous park. The time in nature put me in a place to hear God clearly: I stopped thinking about what I had to do that day and that week and took in the stream, the breeze, the chipmunks, all the beautiful things I often neglect to notice (if I’d only slow down to see them!). After the walk, Gina led us to reflect further on Proverbs 20:27 from the audio recording:
“The breath of man is the lamp of the Lord that sheds light on one’s inmost being.”
We reflected on God’s desire to know and transform the deepest parts of us. I thought a lot about how my past experiences shaped me to believe that I was responsible for other people’s feelings and actions. This belief has been one of the most painful and poisonous lies that has influenced my life and relationships. It can lead me to resent my wife when she doesn’t reach her fitness goals; I’ve believed that if she doesn’t accomplish those goals, it’s my fault. It can cause me to nag and pressure the students I lead in high school youth group to share the gospel with their friends, often in ways that make me and God sound like harsh, demanding task masters; I’ve believed that if they don’t take meaningful social risks and invite their friends to church, it’s my fault. It can push me to repeatedly ask my friend who struggles with depression if he’s gone to church, made any friends, read the Bible, and many other “helpful” suggestions (which probably sounded like passive-aggressive commands); I’ve believed that if he doesn’t overcome his bout with depression through my friendship, it’s my fault.
God never intended me to carry this kind of responsibility on my shoulders; his yoke is supposed to be easy, and his burden is supposed to be light. However, I’ve held on to these destructive beliefs and taken on a demanding and exhausting burden in the process. This is why I need to develop an interior life with God: if I want to be a truly empathetic, patient, stable, and loving follower of Jesus, I need to learn to let go of the ugly habits and attitudes He wants me to release. I’ve been judgmental, controlling, and manipulative plenty of times in my life. I know the cost of neglecting my inner life well.
As we continued reflecting on this Proverbs verse, I received clarity on people I needed to apologize to and relational shifts I had to make. For example, I decided to pray for and encourage my wife in regards to her fitness goals, but leave the choice up to her as to whether or not she goes to the gym. God’s light burden for me in this case is to support my wife, not to control her into good behavior. These realizations about ways to surrender my controlling and overly-responsible tendencies to God have continued. I still face regular temptation to be slip back into old habits, but I’ve made plenty of progress since the Sabbath walk. I also stopped offering “suggestions” to my friend struggling with depression and have asked more questions about what his experience has been like. I apologized for the times I’ve tried to control him, and he forgave me. Our friendship has become more honest and enjoyable for both of us.
Bottom line: when Gina invites you to something, go to it :)
All joking aside, developing your inner-life to deal with your bad attitudes, unhealthy relationships, and poisonous beliefs is one of the best decisions you can ever make. A lot is at stake. What if the first words that came to people’s minds when they thought of you was “patient” or “gentle” or “consistently loving”? A life based on the deep change that God offers will make you much more like Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I want to work with, go to church with, and be best friends with someone who is like Jesus.
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Hi my name is Gina; and I'm the founder of the ministry. My 25 year journey with God has been centered on immersing myself in the safe relationship God offers, learning about the power of surrender, and praying for His life in greater measure!