When Activity Becomes Your Identity

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About a month ago I had a life-changing moment in Wal-Mart.  It actually surprised me since I’m not used to having earth shattering revelations beside the fruit and produce section, but that moment is guiding my thinking a month later.

Pretty much everyone who knows me realizes this but I am a “doer” (or spaz but I use  that term lovingly) who absolutely loves action and “doing things.”

Theres nothing wrong with this because God creates some of us with a love for activity.  Recently when a ministry team came to Barrouallie I noticed a group of them outside talking while everyone else was having a meeting inside.  “Oh don’t worry about them they are doers” someone told me after I asked about it, “they think planning is boring.”

For me being a doer used to mean spending as little time home as possible…days were filled with mentoring, english as a second language, discipleship, tutoring, volunteering and pretty much anything else I could fill my time with.  

When I came back for a two-month furlough however things were very different.

There were no more volunteering opportunities

No training runs

No mentoring or tutoring sessions at school

Instead I was just home

Now before you get any ideas I’m not sitting around watching Netflix and eating potato  chips all day, there are plenty of things for me to do at home before the return to St. Vincent  

  1. Finish a sermon series on Joshua
  2. Create power points for discipleship material on Evangelism
  3. Create new discipleship material on how to study the bible, and approval addiction
  4. Get barrels packed and shipped to St Vincent
  5. Report to Churches (travel and meetings)
  6. Start blogging again (and this time I mean it!)
  7. Further education in Church growth
  8. Create a long-term plan for growth of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Barrouallie
  9. Communicate with Churches and supporters
  10. Bottom line is I’m busy

The problem is 90% of that work is done at home staring at a computer screen which for a doer who is geared towards interaction with people can be pretty frustrating.

In a deeper sense this activity (ministry with people) became something that I used to gauge how successful my day was.  If there were four ministry opportunities that day then I viewed it as a success.  It’s harder for a doer to view completing four sessions on the bible study methods class as a success

Every day that passed with little activity (face to face ministry) I became more and more frustrated till finally I began leaving the house in the afternoon to find something that was activity based so at the end of the day I could feel better about myself.  Which brings me to Wal-Mart four weeks ago.  

While grabbing some groceries it occurred to me how many times I choose activity that brings immediate gratification over deeper work that would truly make a difference like wrestling  with a blog post or creating discipleship material to train future leaders.

The thing about work like that is it isn’t flashy or fun (especially for doers) however in the long run it’s those ministries that make an impact.  A sermon or lesson that I’ve spent hours over will make a bigger difference on someone’s life than a 30-minute tutoring session.

Since that time I’ve spent most of my time at home and with the Lords help have embraced the less exciting aspects of ministry.  It does make it harder to view my day as successful at night, but I know this hard work will create great opportunities for activity on the island.

When God fills my Psychological Cup

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There comes a moment for each of us when our psychological cup runs low; a moment when we don’t feel loved, accepted, or confident in ourselves.  There is nothing sinful about those moments because it reminds us we are dependent creatures on other people for our happiness instead of being self-existent like God.

The dangerous part of this is the question “when your psychological cup runs low how are you going fill it?”  Normally we will turn to the encouragement or acceptance of other people to make us feel better (eventually this can become a sinful habit because others are just used to fill our cup) but sometimes we will do even worse by using God to fill it

We use God to fill our emotional cups by claiming promises of God in Scripture or  in a moment of discouragement I just remind myself that God loves me more than I think.

Dr. Ed Welch in his book “When People are Big and God is Small” explains how this approach overlooks an important step of introspection and repentance;

The love of God can be a profound answer to just about any human struggle, but sometimes we can use it in such a way that it becomes a watered down version of a profoundly rich truth.”

For example sometimes because of shortcomings in us the answer ignores personal repentance.  It still allows us and our needs to be at the center of the world, and God go comes our psychic errand boy given the task of inflating our self-esteem” (pg.18, par.3)

Dr. Welch’s point reminds me of a class during college where our professor explained how Christians use Bible verses like aspirin.  So when someone’s discouraged you tell tell them that all things work together for good to them that love God (Romans 8:28) or I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me (Philippians 4:13).  This usually brings a flood of encouragement and suddenly our psychological  cup goes from almost empty to full.

The sad thing is this can create a dependence to encouraging Scriptures when we are discouraged or frustrated.

Of course God wants us to be encouraged and loved, after all He is the one who created us with that desire in the first place!  But instead of using Scripture for a “quick fix” He desires that we spend time meditating on His character.  This may not take away the feelings of discouragement right away like we want, but it focuses our eyes on God instead of our own circumstances or emotions.  And often this leads to repentance of allowing our own psychological cup to become the most important thing instead of Gods purpose.

A deeper danger of filling my emotional cup with the Bible is it changes the way that I view Scripture.  Now whenever I open God’s word instead of looking for a truth that will focus my eyes on Him, I’m looking for something to make me feel better about myself.  And when interpreting Scripture instead of asking “what is the Lord showing me about Himself?” I ask “what encouraging truth does God have for me today?”

Of course this way of approaching God’s Word will only work for so long.

Because Scripture isn’t meant to be used this way eventually the day will come when either God won’t provide those encouraging truths to fill my cup (they weren’t meant for that anyways) or those verses don’t fill my heart with happiness anymore recuse I’ve lost sight of the person they point to (God).  

Interpreted correctly the truths of Scripture will lead me to worship of God and submission before Him as I understand my emotional needs aren’t nearly as important as I thought.  Interpreted incorrectly God becomes as Dr. Welch called him “a psychic errand boy.”

When Ministry Fills My Psychological Cup

KevWhile getting read for my  first meeting during a quick two-month furlough a few weeks ago I came downstairs and asked my father a very important question…do you think I should bring Kev?

Kev for those of you who don’t know is the name of an inflatable kangaroo I used to bring while sharing my burden for Australia with Churches.  One reason for bringing Kev was to have fun with kids because all the good little boys and girls got to sign him with a permanent marker.  But the real reason for my bringing him was connection with people.

Every missionary knows when speaking at a Church the most important thing to do is get people to visit your display table.  There you can give out prayer cards, start a conversation, get them to sign up for a newsletter and pretty much start a relationship.  Because of this many missionaries use something that draws attention to their table; whether its something from the mission field, food, or a laptop showing pictures. Kev was my attention drawer and he did an excellent job, I always loved watching the excited expressions on people’s faces as I walked in with him.

That time though Kev stayed home and not just because there aren’t any kangaroos on the island since everything else on my display table was Australian.  No he stayed home because I didn’t want it to all be about me.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we view ourselves as psychological cups filled with emotional needs (to be loved, feel successful, etc).  This isn’t a bad thing because God created us with this desire to be loved.  The problem is many people (myself included) become so focused on filling our psychological cup with the love or acceptance of others people HAVE to love us if we are going to survive.  Eventually we will begin turning to social media to fill our cups because people don’t give the love we crave.

A few years ago I learned Satan also loves to twist something that should glorify God like a ministry presentation until its all about my cup…

One challenge for missionaries when visiting a Church (particularly one that can support you) is making yourself memorable.  Most of the time unless you’re in a missions conference the people will see you for about an hour to an hour and a half so you quickly have to find a way to stick in their mind (oh I remember you, you’re the guy who ___________).  I know this sounds like your selling a ministry, but it’s necessary since there are so many missionaries going to foreign fields.

Along with Kev to make things memorable God has given me the gift of connecting with people through public speaking.  This is strange because I’m an introvert by nature but put me in front of a crowd and suddenly I turn into an extroverted story-teller.  This gift for public speaking helped me share the burden God has placed on my heart for Australia in a very powerful way.

Originally those ministry opportunities were created to equip Believers in local churches so they could reach their own mission fields and gain their prayers.  But later Satan started filling my heart with pride and the presentations goal was to connect with others in an emotional way (therefore filling my psychological cup).  It took me a while to realize those services had become more about “the John show” than my burden for Australia. 

I can remember driving home from a meeting one night in a bad mood and beginning to think about it.  “Why am I so angry when the Lord gave me a wonderful opportunity to share His call on my life?”  Eventually the answer came….not enough people came to my display table after the service.  While driving on the highway I immediately confessed to the Lord my sinful pride in gauging the success of a ministry presentation on how many people told me I did a good job.

While putting together a ministry presentation before coming back from St Vincent in February the Lord helped me make equipping others for missions a focus instead of my own ministry.  This doesn’t mean I don’t share my own needs or burdens of course, but the end goal is encouraging Believers to reach those in their own religious mission field like Barrouallie.  And in this way pour myself into others instead of expecting them to fill my own cup.

Not that it’s always easy

Recently after a ministry presentation everyone but one or two people completely ignored my display table and it did hurt a bit.  But on the way home I reminded myself it wasn’t about how many people visited my table, instead it was about how many were reminded of their calling to share Christ.

When Social Media Fills My Psychological Cup 

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Earlier this week I wrote a post about my heart being a psychological cup after reading “When People are Big and God is Small” by Dr. Ed Welch.  The convicting idea in his book is that we view ourselves as cups full of emotional needs (to be loved, respected, etc) and often use other people to fill our cups.  By itself that isn’t necessarily a bad thing since we need to love one another,  however when our cups become low the love of others becomes an idol that we absolutely must have at all costs.

The truly sad thing is our emotional or psychological cups are meant to filled by God as we meditate on His Word, pray, worship, and allow Him to speak to us in the silence of life’s quiet moments.  Or by a conversation with a brother or sister in Christ.

 Yet we live in a world that allows us to fill our cups one mouse click at a time 

I absolutely love social media because it gives me the chance to connect with people all around the world.  It’s possible today to send a praise, prayer request, ministry update, picture, or video in seconds.  If the person has the right technology it’s even possible to send text-messages or make a phone call!

But that blessing is also a curse since its as easy to send a message about being depressed as it is to send one praising God.

What’s the big deal?” You may ask.  “All of us have bad days from time to time, in fact this could be a good thing since it reminds people missionary’s have bad days too.”  

It is true that people should know missionaries have bad days, but I know from experience after sharing a post about being depressed people will begin flooding my Facebook page with encouraging comments and heartfelt prayers.  Within moments my cup that was running dangerously low will be  absolutely overflowing with confidence because Christian bothers and sisters have ministered to me!

So what is the big deal?  My cup wasn’t meant to be filled that way.

My longing for love was created to be filled with God’s presence and deep-relationships with others

  1. Relationships that center on face to face conversations (awkward silence included)
  2. That have accountability partners who lovingly point out a weakness and lead towards repentance if necessary
  3. That may not give the complete and total acceptance I crave (I may not deserve it)

These kind of relationships are difficult because instead of filling our emotional cup they may question why that cup is so empty in the first place, and more importantly, why we MUST HAVE their love.  This leads to conversations that  involves things like authenticity, conviction, and confession before true restoration can take place.

Satan knows God’s way of filling our cups is difficult and painful, so he responds by offering a much easier way of filling them…just write a Facebook post and allow others to fill our hearts with love.

I’m not saying it’s a sin to ask for encouragement or prayer on social media because there are days when the Lord uses encouraging words online.  But this way of filling my cup keeps me from noticing bad days draw me towards God.   My cup being low is the Lords way of telling me I need to talk things through with a Christian friend or spend more time with Him in prayer and meditation on Scripture…but my first thought is to look for an easier way out.

Last Monday I was getting over a stomach virus so while my mind and heart wanted to be productive my body was saying “nope your going to lay in bed all afternoon.” By six the annoyance level had reached its limit (spastic people hate to be unproductive)so  I was going to write a Facebook post expressing frustration but decided to spend a few hours reading on the porch reading and listening to worship music instead.

The Lord used that time in Scripture, Christian books, and Pandora to give a deeper vision of my ministry in St. Vincent and a conviction about focusing on busyness instead of teaching others the truth of Christ.

To be honest it would have felt a lot better to let people fill me up online Monday night.  But that time on the porch was what I truly needed.