Written by Norm Henry
From his column A Sound Mind
Ministry was stressful even before the pandemic; with the coronavirus it has become even more so. Stress has intensified over the past few months. As a result, our world is experiencing increased anxiety, fear, depression, grief, anger, and violence. With all that is happening, we pray, “Lord have mercy!”
Ministry was important before the pandemic, now it is critical. Ministers, we need to “pray continually.”
Ministers, too, are impacted by the pandemic. We experience the same problems and emotions as others, nonetheless we are expected to be available to serve, which creates extra stress. It can leave us tired, emotionally drained, fatigued, and reduce resistance to illness. At times, we feel like Ezekiel’s dry bones.
So what keeps us full of spiritual vitality, healthy, and hopeful during times of long-lasting crisis? Well, of course, God does as we spend time with Him. “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage and He shall strengthen thine heart.” “Cast your cares on the Lord, and He will sustain you.” “God will take care of you.” And He does.
While we are more often concerned about caring for others, self-care is important. It is not selfishness, but rather good stewardship. Self-care is essential for our well-being and that of those around us. When the demands of ministry increase, we often spend less time caring for ourselves. This can result in mental and physical fatigue and burnout. Incarnational ministry means that our instrument of ministry is our self. Now that we know the pandemic is going to last longer than we had thought, we must give careful attention to this instrument so we may finish our journey well.
Spiritual (soul) care is most important. However, all aspects of self-care are significant. Just a few thoughts today; more in a couple of months.
Four months ago, I wrote on physical self-care as part of your “Self-Care” plan. Given the chronic intense stress we have experienced since I wrote that article, physical self-care is even more important. Let me be direct. When you feel physically drained, you need to exercise to restore your energy. Yes, we need adequate rest, but regular exercise is just as important. Walk, run, bike, play tennis, but do something that requires you to move. Five or six days a week would be good. Seven days a week does no more good, so rest on the seventh day. Start small, but start today and stay active. You will feel better, enjoy ministry more, and last longer in God’s service.
Spiritual (Soul) Care
Jesus often spent time with His Father while He was on this earth. Most certainly, Jesus was as busy in ministry as we are. Yet, He withdrew early in the morning, went to the mountain, and stayed all night. Jesus went into the garden, “as was His custom.” Jesus loved spending time with His Father. Spiritual energy, strength, vitality comes from the Father. In John 15:1-17, Jesus reminds us many times to remain/abide in Him. Jesus says, “apart from me, you can do nothing” of eternal value (v. 5). Living in Him and maintaining our relationship with Him will bring the fruit He promises. During times of intense demands and challenging ministry situations, time for our own soul care with the Father is critical. As Brother Lawrence wrote, practice living in the presence of God.
Christians for centuries have responded to God’s invitation to spend time with Him through the classical spiritual disciplines: worship, prayer, celebration, study, meditation, service, fasting, and silence. Some simple suggestions for this time: select a few of your favorite verses and meditate on them. Soak on them. Rest on them. Let God’s Word reduce anxiety, lower stress, and give hope. Sometimes when we are anxious, we find it hard to listen in prayer. So use His written Word to listen. Read the Psalms aloud. Often the Psalmist helps us express our thoughts and feelings better than we can. Use your favorite spiritual discipline, but spend extra time with God, so He can “take care of you.”
In this stressful time, God is with us. He does not want us to be weary in our service to Him. Take time to be with Him and remember to care for your own health. It will make a difference in your life and ministry.
Dr. Norm Henry has served the Church of the Nazarene in numerous capacities as both psychologist and minister.