One of the saddest occurrences is when I spend time trying to mentor an experienced Christian minister who is wrestling with regrets, guilt and self-condemnation after they have given a lifetime to the work of God.
Christian ministry should be satisfying and rewarding. The joy, peace, fulfillment and contentment should be overflowing for anyone who has devoted their life to arguably the world’s most noble profession. Surprisingly instead of entering a time of bliss and contentment, a vast number of ministers and their spouses enter their later years disillusioned, angry, bitter, depressed and saddened over missed opportunities, mistakes, bad judgments, regrets, and a list of similar discouragements. This simply ought not to be. What about you? Are you living with regret, guilt, or condemnation right now? Is it easier for you to quote Romans 8:1 than it is to live it? “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” KJV
The word “condemnation” means an adverse sentence (the verdict). There should be no adverse sentence or condemnation but reality says there often is. If so, then the question is what caused it? Or, from where did it originate?
Even if you could identify the point of origin for your feeling of condemnation you cannot change the history that caused it. However, you can learn from history, make adjustments, and not repeat the same mistakes in the future. Another key point is that Romans 8:1 reveals the answer to living condemnation free. It says to, “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” To state it plainly: the Spirit will lead you to a condemnation free life and ministry whereas the flesh will lead to condemnation.
From a practical standpoint the following suggestions will assist you in building a condemnation free life and ministry.
Plan your finances as though you will live 150 years.
One of the greatest tragedies is that many of us have failed to plan for the day of retirement. It is a mistake you will live to regret. Many of those who chose to spend it all because the Lord was coming and they didn’t want to leave it for the antichrist died broke and foolish. They had no oil in their lamps when the day came that they needed it.
Regardless of what you haven’t done in the past you owe it to yourself to begin preparations for your future today. Many ministers do not have retirement plans and will be forced to depend on the government to exist. The government cannot be depended on for your aged future. Changes are being made in government today that threatens the long-term security of America’s seniors.
Let me share an amazing fact with you. If you take a sheet of copy paper and fold it in half it then becomes two pages thick. If you fold it again it would be four pages thick. Fold it the third time it would be eight pages thick. Suppose you continue folding it in half until you have folded it fifty times. How high do you think the stack of paper would be?
Would the stack of paper be twelve inches high? Would it be two feet high? Think bigger; would it be as tall as a refrigerator? What is the correct answer? You won’t believe it.
A piece of paper folded fifty times would reach from the earth to the moon! If you fold it just once more (fifty-one times) it would reach from the earth to the moon and back to the earth again.
You must decide to somehow start saving or investing on a regular and consistent basis. It will add up. Allow interests to compound. I recently read about someone who made a fortune with an online Internet business. He said that he remembers the day he made his first dollar. He thought, “If I can make one I can make two!” Everyday he tried to simply inch his business forward. Eventually his online business reached a tipping point.
Your future is worth the effort to repeatedly do the right things (like folding the paper) and inching forward (one dollar at a time). Start today!
Make family time and relationships a top priority.
The most important people in your life should be your family. The past is over and only the future remains. Begin building better relationships and connections with your family today. There is still time to create what will become sweet memories.
Is healing needed? Are forgiveness, confession and repentance necessary? Bridge the gap. Do it.
The time to ask the hard questions is now. Are you content to see your children or parents only once or twice a year? An amazing fact is that many people will only spend a few hours with those they love over the next ten years. Are a few hours of life all you really want to remember about that special person?
Make the effort and the adjustments to build memories with those you love the most. It is amazing how you blink and the children are grown and gone, and age transforms your face in the mirror.
Do yourself a favor and do not neglect your family and loved ones for everyone else. Be accountable to those you love and you will never regret the memories. In your latter years those memories will become perhaps your greatest treasure and source of serenity.
Keep variety in your lifestyle.
Are you a boring dud as an individual? What things do you do with your spouse? If your spouse knew then how you would be now do you think they would have married you? When is the last time you were spontaneous and fun? Where have you traveled? Name some of your great adventures?
Have you ever looked at how you look when you walk out of your house to check the mail? Do you need to make some personal changes? Is your life’s greatest joy the time spent eating that late night bowl of ice cream you have propped up on your bulging tummy?
Are you like Phileas Fogg, the main character in, Around the World in 80 Days? He never varied anything. Everything in his life was precise and centered only around him.
If so then you need to get a life. Variety is the spice of life, or so it is said. Only you can add variety into your life.
Expand your horizons. Develop meaningful hobbies. Do memorable and exciting things together with your spouse.
If your hobbies take you away from your spouse then develop some mutually interesting hobbies that you can do with your spouse. Don’t allow everything you do to be done alone or with others and not with your spouse.
Invest in friendships.
A man once told me, “I can count on one hand the number of friends I have.” As he said that he waved his hand. He only had two fingers because his hand had been damaged in an accident. What a shame. A life lived and only two friends to show for it.
Do you have good friends? Do you have the kind of friends that are the kind that will be there through thick and thin?
My father-in-law once lost his job. He decided that instead of looking for another job he would just start a business from the ground up. It was a tough time but he and my mother-in-law faced their challenge with courage. His next-door neighbors came over and handed him a checkbook with a $10,000 balance. They told him to use the money as if it were his own and to try to repay them whenever he could. There were no strings attached, no contract and no expectations demanded. It was simply an act of faithful friendship.
Trust and friendship like that doesn’t come cheaply. Friendships are something you invest time and effort into.
Consider the friends you have and make the effort to strengthen the ties that bind you together. Do something to manifest your trust and confidence in your friends. Everyone will benefit from the meaningful relationships that only close friendships can produce.
Guard your testimony and your reputation.
One of the greatest things an individual can possess is a good reputation. Every person, and especially every minister, should protect their reputation.
In my mind I can think of multiple men who had built world-renowned ministry empires. Their names were known around the world, and if I named them you would recognize them. The sad thing is that if I named them you would not think of their great accomplishments, of their multi-million dollar buildings, or any of their grand programs. Instead you would think of their act of adultery or other moral or financial failure.
You build your own reputation and others simply state it. You alone will determine if others call you lazy, undependable, a thief, dishonest, faithful, industrious, loyal, devoted, genuine or otherwise.
Always bear in mind that what you may spend years establishing can be destroyed or tainted by one careless act. A lifetime as a great husband would be forgotten and tossed aside by one selfish act of adultery on a business trip.
Reputations include perception. Sometimes what you are isn’t all that matters, but it is how others perceive you. You may be honest but if others perceive you as dishonest then to them that is what you are. You may be faithful but if others perceive you as unfaithful then to them that is what you are. Once people perceive you as being a certain way it is difficult to change their opinion of you.
So, why would they perceive you any certain way? It could be your actions, the way you conduct yourself, the things you say, the company you keep, or any other such thing.
Today you are building your reputation. This is as good a time as any to take inventory of everything that could impact the perception others have of you, as well as to establish some protective boundaries to keep you from destroying in a moment of weakness the things you took a lifetime to create.
Make time for the important things in life.
It is difficult to think about dying because we all desire to live, but death eventually comes to all. To the born again Christian death is nothing to fear but something to embrace as part of our eternal journey.
If you could imagine yourself as a person of extreme old age, nearing death and meditating on their life, what would be the most important things to you? Would it be your relationship with God, your family, your life’s impact on others, or what?
It has been said that nobody nearing death ever says, “I wish I would have spent more time at work”. However, they do say things like, “I wish I had been a better husband, or father, or Christian, or example, etc.”
Make time now for the important things in life. Do it daily and continuously. Allow it to become a habitual daily lifestyle. Eliminate as many non-essential things as possible that are contrary to the things you value in life. Do yourself and those you love a great favor by making a conscientious attempt to increase your emphasis on the important things and to minimize and eliminate the non-important.
Take care of your temple.
Your body is the temple you live in for a lifetime. The quality of the life you live depends largely on the health and condition of your body.
Don’t neglect your health. Physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellness should be a top priority. Many people have done irreparable harm to their bodies due to abuse or neglect, but the optimum time to begin making improvements is right now.
The ministry is a profession that many use to justify unhealthy lifestyle habits. Eating late, avoiding exercise, neglecting rest and so forth are not only commonplace but also boasted about. That is lunacy! Prayer lines are often filled with overweight and unkempt people who are asking God to heal what they have abused.
Proper exercise and diet helps avoid and even prevents many health issues from occurring. Blood pressure, stress, cholesterol levels, fatigue, diabetes, heart conditions and many other things can be aided or eliminated through the proper care of the body. You are worth it!
When one passes the age of fifty you are on the downhill slope of life. However, most people have a choice as to how fast they go downhill. Fortunately there are many solutions available today and for every price range. One might join a fitness center, the YMCA or YWCA, or even purchase some exercise equipment for the home. There are a plethora of exercise games, dance videos, and so forth available today. Others may choose bike riding, walking, jogging, tennis, golf, hiking, basketball or any number of activities that keep the body fit.
Numerous people in my church family have recently started taking better care of their bodies. Many have lost weight and started exercising regularly. It has already made an incalculable difference. Even the attitudes are better!
Years ago my grandmother became depressed. She started staying in bed and became totally lethargic and lazy. She gained weight, lost energy, and depended on her husband for everything as he cooked, cleaned and did the shopping, etc. Finally she went to her doctor because she was feeling so poorly. After the examination the doctor asked her if she had life insurance. “Yes”, she replied. “Good”, he said. “Why do you ask”, she requested. “So you can pay for your funeral soon,” he replied. “Oh Lord, what is wrong with me doctor?” she asked, thinking she had a severe disease or something. The doctor then told her, “There is nothing wrong with you that exercise can’t cure. If you don’t get out of that bed you are going to die very soon. If you get up and active again you may live 20 more years,” he scolded her. “The choice to live or die is yours”. Fortunately my grandmother started a walking routine that same day. Eventually she lost weight and could do anything she wanted to do. She lived over 20 more years as a result.
If you haven’t exercised in a while please consult with your doctor before beginning any rigorous exercise regimen. Consult a dietician or other expert before drastically altering your diet.
Whatever you do get healthier and live longer and better.
Maintain devotion and intimate time with God.
I have visited the convent and burial site of Mother Teresa in Kolkata, India on several occasions. It is humbling to see where she lived. Her room was sparsely furnished. She allowed herself one pencil at a time until it was used up. She had two changes of garments. She wore one of the garments, as the other was being hand washed and prepared for use again. She rotated them daily.
She did a marvelous work. The “Sisters of Charity” convents, which she founded, impact thousands of people daily around the world. Her writings are amazing. As I read things written in her own handwriting I began to understand that her work was strictly humanitarian. One of the saddest things I ever read was her handwritten note in which she spoke of the daily toil and burden, and then stated that she had not felt God one time in over twenty years! She regretted not feeling God. She had helped so many, but had famished her own soul.
Do not neglect your soul. Spend intimate time with God. Study the Word of God. Establish a consistent prayer life. Practice praise and worship. Keep the Spirit fresh in you. Don’t be like Mother Teresa and get so busy doing the work of God that you neglect the most important thing (your relationship with God).
In Summary, to overcome or avoid condemnation:
- Plan your finances as though you will live 150 years
- ·Make family time and relationships a top priority
- Keep variety in your lifestyle
- Invest in friendships
- Guard your testimony and your reputation
- Take care of your temple
- Maintain devotion and intimate time with God