Ministry can be tough and wearying in this broken and painful world. What does it mean to entrust our souls to God while serving as caregiver or mentor for hurting and brokenhearted women? In this workshop, Ellen Dykas addresses both the dangers and also the joys of being poured out into the lives of others, with a focus on Christ-centered practical wisdom for our own hearts.
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Ellen Dykas: I’d like to begin our time this afternoon with a letter. “Dear friends and faithful supporters, I want to thank you for your years of support in so many ways. But I do need to share some news that is both very sad and humbling for me. I was removed as a women’s ministry director of Harvest USA last month. While I can’t share all the details, I want to confess that I’ve lived with several secret sin struggles for the past two years, including an ungodly relationship that came to light a few months ago. I’m sorry for the shock and disappointment of this. Will you forgive me?”
This, my friends, is fake news. By God’s grace, this never happened, but it could or it could have been alcohol or TV or buying addiction. I could have just been being so exhausted from the ministry that I just wanted to quit. Maybe just getting to that place of “You know what? It’s not worth it. Who cares?” Or maybe just a place of burnout and just not believing the Bible anymore. I’ve learned over the past 30 years of ministry how important it is to have not only a loving heart but a wise heart as a woman in ministry, in the midst of all the challenges that come with it.
What’s your context for ministry?
I’ve had several over the years I’ve both…I’ve been involved in a lot of informal settings of discipleship teaching the word, I’ve been involved in different care ministries. I did youth ministry for a while and then got out of that by God’s grace. And then for 11 years of…bless you who do youth ministry. You are saints. But I mean, believe me, you’re on a bus for 18 hours from St. Louis to Colorado with senior highers, that ended it for me. But for the past 11 years, I’ve been on staff with Harvest USA, a national ministry focused on gospel-centered discipleship and church education regarding sexuality, and gender. I’m the women’s ministry coordinator. And you might hopefully, you had a couple of postcards on your seat about our ministry, we have a table in the exhibit hall.
But regardless of our context, I would suspect that most of us would agree that this is a painful planet to live on. Our human frailty, our personal sin struggles, and the schemes of the devil bring battles to us consistently, that can threaten our joy in Christ, that can hijack the Lord’s desire to do good works through us. And, again, you may agree with me, I think it’s easy for most of us to grow weary, overwhelmed and hardened in the midst of ministry. Now, this workshop is not gonna give you more ideas on how to do ministry. There’s a lot of amazing workshops happening today on so many different topics regarding ministry and that will encourage you and equip you. And I encourage you to go to them and the next two rounds or listen to the audio online. But this hour is for your heart. It’s for your needs as women who are involved in ministry to others.
How do we walk wisely when confronted with the pain of this world like this man who is despairing of life out here? How do we walk with wisdom when we’re confronted with the pain and the brokenness all around us and how people bruise each other and worse? And let’s get this little bit more specifically, how do we walk wisely when we’re invited into people’s lives? And when people come to us out of their heartbreak, their disappointments, their crushing losses, health trials, relational disappointments? How do we walk wisely when they come to us for a word of hope, for counsel for wisdom? Maybe a hug, maybe someone who will just listened to them.
How do we do this wisely, lovingly and effectively?
Well, again, I’m gonna take a guess that probably like, me, you really do desire in one way or another, to see people with the compassion of Jesus, to see them with his eyes that looked on them as people that harassed and needed help outside of themselves. But maybe also like me, you can at times feel frustrated and weary when struggling and needy sheep aren’t so cute and cuddly. You know what I’m saying.
So I want us to consider some wisdom for our hearts by looking at a concept from Deuteronomy 4. And this is again, we’ve heard so much on this already, but just a reminder that chapter four begins as Moses begins to give God’s people exhortation upon exhortation about how they must live as they prepare to enter the promised land. And what I want us to do specifically is to look at this command that he gives, that we must watch over ourselves. So let’s dig in by reading from Deuteronomy four. Again, Moses is explaining the importance of obedience, faith, and love of the Lord.
So beginning in verse seven, he says, “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? Only take care, keep your soul. Watch over it diligently lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen unless they depart from your heart, all the days of your life, make them known to your children and your children’s children.”
And then again in verses 15 and 23, Moses urges God’s people “Therefore, watch yourselves very carefully. Keep a guard over your hearts so that you don’t forget the Lord and make idols for yourself.”
Some of you may know that verse it’s quoted often it’s on a lot of coffee mugs and T-shirts. Proverbs 4:23, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it come the wellsprings of life.”
This idea of watching ourselves is actually something that’s repeated in Deuteronomy many times. It means just what it sounds like. It’s to be on guard, to be watchful, to be very aware of what’s happening. And the reason for this repeated exhortation is because the Lord loves us because he wants his people flourishing in his calling upon their lives, which from what we’ve heard, it’s what? It’s living out our calling as those who are loved, who are God’s people and those who have good works that he has called for us to do. But this is something also that Peter…that Jesus, Peter, Paul, and Jude all taught in many New Testament books. Let me just share some of these verses with a little bit of an expanded version of them to give a deeper sense of the meaning. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus said to his three disciples.
Matthew 26:41, “Watch, be mindful, stay away from drowsiness and pray that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but who you are on your own is weak.”
Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 10:12. “If any of you think you’re standing strong, take heed, watch over yourself so you don’t fall.”
1 Timothy 4:16 Paul says, “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.”
A couple more here. 1 Peter 5:8. “Be sober, be vigilant, be watchful, for your adversary the devil prowls around like a devil looking…the devil prowls around looking for someone to devour.”
And then finally, in Jude, just the one chapter letter, a heartfelt letter written to God’s people. He was urging them to stay true to the Lord and the scriptures in light of false teaching. He says in verses 20 and 21, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, guard yourselves in the love of God, as you are waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.”
A lot of repetition, but how do we do this? How do we watch over our lives as women in ministry? How do we keep close tabs on how our hearts are doing in the midst of painful ministry situations? In the midst of caring for people over the long haul, they’re struggling in a variety of ways?
Well, I’ve got six ideas, six areas that I want us to consider as important for us to be watchful in our lives. So six things we’re gonna go through these one-by-one.
Number one, we need to watch over our relationship with God.
And Kristie and Don’s plenaries this morning were the perfect introduction to what I’m about to talk about and really, this whole workshop is an application, I think of what they both talked about. So this idea of watching over our love relationship with Jesus, it seems so obvious. But let’s be encouraged. God knows we need to be reminded of this otherwise, he wouldn’t have said it so many times in His Word. So in Deuteronomy over and over again, we see God commanding his people to love Him, obey Him, serve him, hold fast to him. And the key and all of that sisters is that we would love Him, the serving, the holding fast and the fearing, the obeying that’s all woven under our love for Him.
But it’s so easy, isn’t it to get off track, especially when we’re engaged in ministry that we’re so passionate about. I liked the way that devotional writer Oswald Chambers said it. He said, “Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ. The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for him.” Now, I love those thoughts but again, it might be easy to respond to that with “All right, you know, I got to up my game, I’ve had to be in the Word more. I’m gonna ramp this up from 5 minutes to 30 minutes. I’m gonna read more scripture. I’m gonna go buy $20 no $50 worth of books in that bookstore down there. I’m gonna ramp this up.” We easily slip into self-dependence, self-reliance. And it’s easy to do that with a command like what Jude says, “keep yourself in the love of God.” So we think, “Okay, I’m gonna do this. I’m gonna take care of this myself.”
How do we cultivate devotion to Jesus proactively watching over our relationship with God and yet not slip into self-dependence?
Let’s go back to Jude. I wanna read the first verse and the two closing verses in this letter. Let me read. Verse one then 24 and 25. “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who are called, beloved in the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ. May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.” And now the closing, “Now, to him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. Be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
Did you hear those amazing truths? We are kept in the Lord. We are loved and called by him. He’s the one who keeps us from stumbling. He’s the one who enables us to love Christ more than we love the world. More than we love our ministry, more than we love being needed, more than we love being a caregiver, more than we love our usefulness, more than we love being a TGC workshop leader. He alone sisters, the very one who commands us to keep ourselves in his love loves us first. And because of that, we can love him back and live out our true identity again, as those who are loved, kept and watched over. He is watching over us. And so as much as we need to be watchful over our relationship with him, we’ve got to remember that we’re already being watched over and kept by him. That’s what enables us to be watchful. So let me say this too. Don’t fear failure when we think about this most of all, but rather than seek faithfulness.
Paul said in Philippians 2:13, in so many words, that it’s God who works in us both to will and to desire, doing his will. It’s God who works in us, even to give us the desire to watch over our relationship with Him. And that might be your starting point today, that might be your takeaway from TGC. “Lord, I don’t love you much, but I’m willing to be changed. I’m willing for you to change my will. And my desires.” He loves prayers like that, and he loves to answer them. But let me say this too, we can’t stop here. We can’t stop with “Okay, Lord, change me, change my desires. I’m just gonna wait on you.” No, there are some active steps of responsive obedience and cultivating our relationship with him. Let me share with you just a few from my own life. And most of these aren’t gonna be anything radically different.
Scripture, we’ve been hearing that over and over, are we growing little step by little step to be women of the Word? I’ve got to have a constant growth…watchfulness over myself, that my times in the Lord aren’t all just preparation for talks like this. And that’s a part of it. It’s a part of my devotional life, but I need to be soaking in God’s Word for my own soul. For those of us that are, Bible teachers are involved in preparing lessons and like that, that can be an easy slipping, I guess if you will. To just have your ministry preparation, be the only time you’re in Scripture.
Another time is just…another idea is having scriptures that specifically orient your heart where you seem to get off track and your devotion to Jesus. So for me, it’s again, it’s a constant growth point of finding my satisfaction only in Christ and not in my relationships, not in accolades, not in whatever. So Scriptures for me that I soak on and try to pray over myself. I prayed this morning, Psalm 90:14 “Satisfy me in the morning with your unfailing love, that I may sing for joy and be glad all my days.” I need regular heart checks, I need regular soul recalibration that Lord, you’re my satisfaction, not this or that, not our ministry, not meeting someone else’s needs. And finding our identity and being need meters is huge for a lot of us.
Another thing, listening to worship music that stirs your heart towards the Lord. And, again, this might not seem like such a big deal, but I can oftentimes find myself drawn to music that only kind of hits me in my struggles and my brokenness. You know, there’s a lot of praise choruses and they have a place, but they’re focusing on our brokenness and our struggles. We also need worship that draws us towards the awesomeness of the Lord, like, Jackie talked about last night. Songs and worship that stir us in our love for Christ. So a CD, and again I’m old school, CD still put them in my car is Chris Tomlin’s latest one “Never Lose Sight.” And I’ve been listening to his song “First Love” over and over. There’s something about that, that just draws my heart towards Christ.
But also, here’s something I do is I try to keep watch over having habits, holy rituals if you will, that cultivate my relationship with him. One of those for me is my morning coffee is always first with the Lord. I’m a coffee girl. I’ll have coffee dates with people every so often. But I always reserve that first cup with Jesus. Before I go out into the day before I spend time with people, there’s something about that. And that’s been for probably 30 years is this is something that “Lord, this is our time,” my phone’s off. It’s not insight. I also try to have just days alone with him. I tried to take retreats with the Lord. This was a bigger thing. But when I had my 30th anniversary of being in Christ, I took an anniversary trip just me and Jesus. I went, kind of my bucket list, I went to the White Mountains in New Hampshire at peak season in fall.
Now, was there loneliness in that? There was. There even some times where I was feeling like, “All these other women going to anniversaries with their real husband.” Listen to that. But no, it was really sweet.
So there’s things like that, and it’s gonna look different for each one of us. But I would encourage you to think about what might be some ways for you to just practically cultivate your love relationship with Jesus. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to reserve a table for two at a restaurant and you go and talk out loud. Yeah, Jesus is gonna have filet. I’m not talking about weirdness here. But Jesus is a real person. He loves you. He delights to be with you. How can you let him know that you delight to be with him?
Now, before we move from this point, I wanna share that part of watching over our love relationship with Jesus means we also need to be aware of what things tempt our hearts away? What hijacks our hearts? I wanna read something to you from a man John Flavel. And this quote, has just, it reorients my heart a lot. He says, “The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go for any length of time, without tasting the love of Christ and savoring the felt comforts of a Savior’s presence.” Here’s the kicker for me. “When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction, our souls will go in silence search of other lovers.” We’ve gotta keep watch, sisters, we’ve got to keep watch over our relationship with the Lord, and our love relationship with the Lord.
Now, the remaining five areas that I wanna share with you really flow from this one, and all six are gonna weave in and out of each other they overlap, but they are distinct. But this is the foundation, our love relationship with Christ. And I believe that as we are cultivating that, keeping Christ in his rightful place in our lives, that there will be a trajectory of growth and wisdom, I think in the five things I’m about to share with you. So let’s move into these.
Number two, we need to watch over our current season of life.
Are you aware of the seasonal changes that happen as you move from situation-to-situation, decade-to-decade? You might be single, younger, older, you might be a single mom, maybe single again, maybe you’re married with little babies married with no kids. Maybe you’re married with tweens, teens, adult children or you’re a widow, a grandmother. Maybe you’re in a season of life with financial stress or financial abundance. Maybe you’re in a season of health or a season of illness. Maybe you’re in a season of singleness or marriage, where you’re flourishing and vibrant. Or you’re in a season of singleness or marriage that is very hard.
Psalms 39:16 says “All the days ordained for me were written in God’s book before one of them came to be.”
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:17 “Let each person lead the life the Lord has assigned to them.”
Now, again, the coffee mug or t-shirt version of this is “Bloom where you’re planted.” We might see a greeting card version as well. And I like that. So the question is, do you know what garden you’re planted in currently? Because each season of life is gonna have different scenarios for us. So I was a 30 something seminarian, just fresh off the mission field. I didn’t have much money. I was living with a very kind older woman from my church who allowed me to live with her rent-free. I was staying in her daughter’s room with her daughter’s furniture from childhood. And I was thankful. But on the same day, I got e-mails from two of my former missionary colleagues and the one e-mail was announcing and celebrating the purchase of their first home. And the other one was celebrating announcing their first pregnancy. My response was celebrate with them. No. I was like, “Lord, what are you doing? Like here I am in this room, their lives are moving on, God. What are you doing with me?”
Well, he was doing something with me and it was unique to that season. He was teaching me contentment. He was teaching me to have a settled soul with his companionship. He was teaching me thankfulness as God’s people were being very generous with me. Now, I’m a 50-something single woman and I’m barely in my 50s so I’m a young 50-something woman. But like you this season has blessings, challenges, opportunities, and limitations. Let me share some.
Right now blessings, I do have a lot of freedom with my time and my resources. But let me just say being single with no kids, it’s not a free pass to just do what you want. I still belong to Christ, I’m still the Lord’s servant. Currently, I’m in a healthy season. Two years ago, when I was here at TGC, I was literally right in the middle of six weeks of radiation for breast cancer. I have challenges right now like, I have to have an income. I am single so I have to in a sense, care for myself in that.
Being faithful to the blessing of my ministry in Philadelphia means I’m not in St. Louis with my elderly father, who continues to grow more and more frail. I myself worry about becoming elderly, who’s gonna care for me? Where am I gonna go if I need care? There’s also that challenge and this is really probably true for all of us have in one way or another of just feeling other. As a younger single person when all my friends started getting married, I felt other. Then they started having children I felt other. Well, now all my friends are starting to become grandparents. And I’m just Ellen. I’m not Mimi, Nana, Gran-Gran Ellie. I’m just Ellen.
But I have opportunities like today. What a blessing like my current season allows me to minister God’s word and to actually get paid for it. This current season allows me to travel. I get to be involved in ministry this current season of continuing of being single and not having children is my morning and evening routines are, I’m pretty much free to do what I wanna do or to use them in ways that are hopefully wise. But I have limitations.
The season has limitations as well. My ministry at Harvest is both to women struggling with sexual sin and wives who are in marriages impacted by sexual sin. So with those wives, I love them, I serve them, but I am limited like not only can I not say, “I know what it’s like to experience this kind of betrayal.” I can’t even say that I know what it’s like to be married. I can’t say I’ve been there.
Another limitation now and being older is international travel just beats me up like, I was saying to everybody in Philly, I drove out here and I’m going on to St. Louis. I said, “I am so looking forward to this road trip. I love road trips.” I was so exhausted not to mention a certain part of my body was very tired for all those…like in my 20s I could do that. But I’ve got limitations. And so do you. Each season has blessings, challenges, opportunities, and limitations. And we’ve got to be aware of that. And I think we need to help each other, to cheer each other on to comfort each other, to challenge each other. To live fully in the season we’re in keeping ourselves in the love of God.
And I would challenge you, I would encourage you to reach out to somebody in a very different season of life, and just say, “Hey, I’d love to hear what do you see as the blessings, challenges, limitations, and opportunities?” And pray for that person, and maybe ask them to pray for you as well. So we’ve got to watch over our relationship with the Lord, we need to watch over and be aware of what season we’re in.
And now number three, we need to watch over our availability and our accessibility.
Oh, now I’m gonna be getting a little bit into your business a little bit more. The question here is, how available and accessible are we for others, both generally and in times of crisis? Are we ever off? And I’m thinking primarily here about ministry outside the home. Obviously, for moms and wives and people caring for parents, there’s lots of different things. And I think you would into it. I’m not talking about that necessarily, but how available and accessible are we? Are we ever off?
Now, when I first moved to Philadelphia, I was in a homegroup with people from my church, lots of different life seasons. And there was an older woman, a single woman in that group who was a counselor, a very experienced counselor. And as I started getting to know her about her boundaries, about how she spent her time on the weekends, about how she spent time at home, about her involvement or lack thereof in the church. I would smile with her…at her but I was judging her in my heart, about “This girl has…these aren’t boundaries. This is like a steel fortress around her life.” It’s like how unloving is that? That’s not love. That’s not right.
Then I came on staff with Harvest USA. And I got about two or three years in and then I realized why that sister, not only was wise, but very loving to the people she was ministering to, to limit her availability and her accessibility. Early day…in my early days of ministry at Harvest, I made myself overly available and overly accessible to some of the women that came to me for help and mainly the women that would come to me at Harvest, but who I also knew through other social circles. Through my cell phone, my home, my time, emotional and mental energy, I was too accessible and available. And there was a couple of situations in particular that could have derailed me in ministry had God not intervened.
Here’s the thing, sometimes the needs of people and their pain take over is the driving force in our schedules and our motivations. Now, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, right? But like we just heard this morning, that’s the second great command. The first is to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And as we keep ourselves in God’s love, first as we keep Him as our first priority, then God’s the one who will either make us available or who will be faithful to lovingly insert us in between us and other people. Giving holy space when it’s needed.
Probably one of the people I’ve learned the most from this about is a very wise respected counselor in the Philadelphia Area. She’s known worldwide. She’s Diane Langberg. And in this book, In Our Lives First: Meditations for Counselors, and don’t let counselors scare you off. This book should be in the bookstore. It’s excellent for anyone in ministry. But she talks about this very idea of what can happen when we let our feelings and even our compassion get us off track. She says that, of course, we are to be compassionate people. Jesus was compassionate. We are to follow in his example. But listen to what she says when we make compassion, our God and I think this has everything to do with making ourselves over available or too accessible. “Compassion, if given the reins, will often lead us to ignore important boundaries and proceed in an almost messianic way in our relationships with our counselees or disciples or fill in the blank. Their pain and our compassion become a single but errant compass that can result in a ministry derailment. The governance of our lives is not to be compassion, but rather the God who is compassionate.”
The governance of our ministry is not to be compassion, but rather the God who is compassionate. I think that’s excellent. And I need that. Maybe like me, you’ve let your emotions and even your desires to minister rule over you more than Christ himself. So for reflection, are there steps that you need to take to reorient your heart’s availability back towards Christ maybe back towards other responsibilities? There’s a lot of people that get way off track because their families, their marriages are just in shambles because their priorities have gotten off track.
Think of your use of technology, home, social media, how much you offer time to people. Is Christ your guide in and out of ministry or something else? Now, we need people to help us in this. We need discerning people like, I’ve got to a very dear friend who wrestles with this like I do. And she just recently asked me if I would help be a person in her life to vet activities. To help her kind of keep boundaries about how much she’s keeping herself available for. It was beautiful humility for her to ask me into that place. We’ve got to watch over how available and how accessible we are.
Now, this goes into our fourth one. We’ve got to watch over our weariness and our wishfulness.
When we’re not watching over our availability and accessibility, our ministry can start feeling very wearing. Now, there are lots of reasons that we grow wearied. But I think overextending ourselves is absolutely one of them. And once we’re in a wearied place, it’s a very quick step for our wishing to take us all kinds of places, including fantasy careers, and callings like running my own coffee shop, starting my own greeting card line, having a home cleaning business. Yeah, I like to clean, or this one, I can’t let go of it somehow figuring out how to become an independently wealthy stay at home single. I mean, come on how great would that be?
Hebrews 12:1-2 says “To run the race of faith with our eyes set on Jesus throwing off sin and distraction.” But here’s something we missed. It says “On the path marked out for us.” Or as a friend of mine says, “We’ve got to learn to stay in our lane.” And the temptation for all of us is GIG disorder, Grass Is Greener. The grass is greener in your lane, in your circumstances, in your season of life, in your ministry, in your trials, in your season, or fill in the blank. What that person has or what they have is better than where God has me. What about you?
Here’s some diagnostic questions. Do you find yourself saying things like, “Oh, I love the ministry, it’s the people I can’t stand.” Are you frequently praying for cancellations in your schedule? Not that I’ve ever done either of those. Right colleagues? On a serious note. And they’re those are funny, but there’s truth behind them. Or do you just feel burnt out and apathetic? Like who cares? Maybe even came to TGC kind of hoping to have something fan back into flames for you. Again, don’t fear failure, seek Christ and faithfulness. Jesus the one who keeps us is also the one that said, “Hey, come to me, all of you who are weary. Come to me, I’m gonna give you rest. I am you your rest.” He is our rest and it’s vital for us to keep watch over our feelings of weariness sisters. It’s wise for us to keep watch over where those feelings are coming from and where they lead us. Do they lead us towards the Lord? Or do they lead us away from him? Let me just finish that point with this #fantasycareers still have real-life drama.
Two more to go here. Number five. And again, we’re gonna get really personal in this one. We’ve got to watch over our relationships and our attachments. And I’m thinking broad strokes but I’m also thinking very much about our ministry spheres. Let me read for you how Paul prayed for the believers in Philippi from Chapter one of Philippians. He said, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.”
Now, that’s not what I prayed about my relationships way back in the day. I wanted warm fuzzies. I wanted people to love me with a fervent heart. And yeah, I’ll love them too. But Paul’s saying this is what you need to pray for that your love is abounding more and more in knowledge and discernment. So you can figure out and know what is best. Is your love for others in word and deed, abounding in knowledge and depth of insight?
A few things I wanna share on this point. First is that it is important for all of us to have spiritual friends and mentors or mentoring voices in our life, like I mentioned Diane Langberg. She’s very much a mentor for me, although that’s come through her books. But we also need friends in our life for whom we are not the counselor, the mentor, the guide, the discipler, the go-to person all the time, the spiritual mother. I’m thinking of relationships in which we’re not leaned on in a way that creates a power or influence differential in the relationship. And this is gonna look different in different seasons of our lives. But I’ve got four main thoughts of this kind of a friendship, people that are encouragers they really spur you on in Christ, and they’re not just fans. They’re not just people that offer flattery or admiration. They encourage you in the Lord. Prayer people, they pray with you and for you, they know what to pray for.
But also play people, people with whom you can have fun that you can laugh and be silly with. I think probably my healthiest, holistic friendships are those with people that really see my silly side and they put up with some of those antics of mine. We’re going deep, we’re confessing struggles, but there are people with whom I can just be Ellen. Encouragers, prayer people, play people and then finally, challengers, people who will call us out. People who are willing to help our eyes be opened to those blind spots in our lives. They aren’t afraid to do that.
I need that like I had a very humbling blindspot exposed in my life several years ago. I lived for so many years with my family just as a very prideful, self-righteous person. I was very blind to it. I mean, I was an evangelical person and I’m a professional Christian for pity’s sake, I got paid for doing this. But I was very self-righteous, and I was very superior, very blind to it. And I learned one of my defense mechanisms growing up was to use sarcasm and use it with a smile on my face, even put a little spiritual tone to it.
Well, I was sitting down with a family member with whom I’d acted this way for many years. And we’d had our own ups and downs and sometimes that would kind of lead to tit for tat, kind of verbal, you know, jousting or whatever. And somehow we had this we had a frustrating little interaction and I felt frustrated. And so I made one of those little sarcastic jabs and instead of coming back at me, she just looked down and all of a sudden I saw tears coming down her cheeks. Well, that I was undone. Sarcasm was not very appropriate in that moment, so what do I say? I said, “Well, do you wanna talk about it? What is it?” And she just looked up like this. And she said, “Ell, sometimes I just don’t think you know how you come across.” I was cut.
I was cut through but it was the Lord. It was the Lord scalpel doing soul surgery on me saying, “Open your eyes, child. You’ve been prideful. You’ve not been loving, even though you’ve been loving here and teaching your ministry here and discipling these women here, here with your own tribe, your own people, you’ve been very prideful.” Blindspot. That happened almost nine years ago, I’m still walking out repentance and growth. But that was transformational in me. We need friends that will help us see those things before it comes to something like what I had to go through. We need to invite that. I would invite people around you to say, “Hey, would you give me some honest feedback? How am I coming across at these team meetings? How do I come across when I’m facilitating our group? You know, when I communicated that decision to the class like, did that come across humble?” It takes a lot of time and humility and work to cultivate those kinds of friendships, but it’s worth it.
Now, when we are not watching over our relationship with Christ, when we don’t have friends like that in our life, many of us are tempted to look to people in our relationships. Including our ministry relationships, to be what only Christ can be. Now, the workshop I taught two years ago at TGC Women’s 2016 was actually on this topic. It was called “Emotional Wholeness: Displacing Relational Idols with Christ’s Love.” You can get that on the website, but I wanna just share some things on this because this is so important and this is one of my passions to speak into. I’ve been invited into so many heartbreaking situations with women who were not watchful over their relationships and attachments. Women that may have been very isolated in one regard, while ensnared in an emotional or sexual affair over here. Friendships or mentoring relationships with a woman, which became sexual and toxic with codependency.
So there’s two dangers if we’re not watching over our relationships. I just mentioned one, it’s these unholy attachments to people. If we’re not holding fast to Christ, drawing from him abiding in him, we can easily crave and strive to make people including the very ones we’re ministering to, to make them a Jesus replacement. It can happen very subtly. It can happen very much off the radar screen. One of the very first women that came to me at Harvest years ago was a pastor’s wife. And she had gotten in touch with me because she was this needing some help and comfort after breaking off a two-year affair with a woman, many years younger than her that she had been matched up with for a mentoring relationship. She was devastated. She was in the anguish of that relationship breaking apart. And when I…and even when they were separated by many states, they still managed to get time together like every other month. And I asked her, she being a pastor’s wife, I said, “How are the two of you able to keep this thing going and like off the radar screen?” And she just said, “Oh, Ellen, everybody just thought we were the best of friends.”
Now, I get that. That’s not been my story. But it could have been my story. I’ve had a lot of emotionally messy mentoring relationships. What I’m sharing with you today, like every single one of these is coming out of my own ministry journey. God has protected me and he sobers me, he sobers me by the very women that are coming to me for help. Because I know if I’m not watchful sisters… little step a little step. We’ve got to be watchful. We’ve got to be watchful in light of this point I’m making about relational idols is that no one can be the fourth person of the Trinity for us. And we can’t be that for others. As Paul Tripp says “There’s only three spots for the Trinity and they are filled.” They’re filled.
Finally, on this, I wanna just I wanna plead with you, sister-to-sister, older sister to you is that if you are struggling in this area. If there’s some kind of deception or hiding going on in your life, let me share with you a very sweet and a sober promise from Proverbs 28:13. It says “Whoever conceals his sins will not prosper.” But here’s the sweet, “Whoever confesses and turns away from them will obtain mercy.” You’re not alone and you’re not unknown, Jesus sees you. He knows you. He loves you. He wants to rescue you out if you’re in this situation. And again, my TGC 16 workshop will walk you through what repentance can look like.
Now, on the other extreme, from that, when we’re not watching over our relationships, we can isolate. We have no attachments. We have no relationships, we might be so fearful of being known that we’re unknown. We might be very known by name, very known in our ministry accomplishments, very known for our ideas with social media, but we’re not known for our true selves, our weaknesses, our insecurities, our struggles.
Final thought on this because this is heavy, but this is needed sisters, I cannot tell you how many women, I’ve had the privilege of being invited into these very fine china places with. Our loving Lord Jesus knows you. And we’ve got hope, by looking at David’s example in Psalm 139:23-24. Let me read this again, an expanded version of this verse that brings out the full meaning.
Psalm 139:23-24. “Lord, search and examine me. Explore all the crevices of my heart and mind all my anxious thoughts. See if there are any sinful paths I’m walking, if there are any patterns of painful idolatry in me, reveal me to me, Lord, and give me spiritual guidance in your good holy pathways.”
He knows you. He loves you, you are kept, called and loved. Respond to that by faith and with humility. We’ve got to be watchful.
And here’s the final one. Number six. We’ve got to watch over our rest and our recreation.
“What? Ellen, that doesn’t seem like a big deal, especially after these last couple.” No, I think this they all these all weave together. Psalm 127:2 says, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil for God gives sleep to his beloved.” So I’m thinking about things like self-care, again, that look different from season-to-season, sleep or evening routines, nutrition, exercise, off time, all of that. But I’m also thinking about this, how do you treat yourself? Are there life-giving physically, emotionally spiritually refreshing activities that you participate in on a regular basis? And people that help you engage in those things are people who are themselves life-giving and refreshing to you.
You know, recently I almost canceled a trip to this beautiful garden in Philadelphia. It’s been on my bucket list for a few years. And I finally had a day off I was gonna go with a friend who was gonna treat me by the way. But I had this talk to finish. I had this woman that’s wrestling with depression to respond in an e-mail, I had my car to be inspected and all these important things, but they could wait. Sometimes there are crises that you’ve got to go but I’m talking about there’s a lot that can wait. And so I went, and it was so life-giving. It was beautiful to just walk around, the friend and I had a really rich conversation. Now, of course, the temptation was to form a new fantasy career and become a master gardener. I mean, plants and flowers all day. Hey, let’s get back here.
So we need rest and recreation. And one of the women again, another one of my mentors through her writing is Amy Carmichael and this little booklet “God’s Missionary” which was written for her little community. Now it’s very exhortational. She’s direct, but there’s rich spiritual principles in there on this very point of rest because she was getting a lot of pushback on “Well, how come we can’t do this? How come we can’t do this?” And she said, “Yes, recreation is good if by that you mean things that recreate you for spiritual purposes. Things that infuse rather than leak out spiritual power in your life.”
So here’s some diagnostic questions for you to ask about any recreational type thing. Two things what’s the impact of this on your thought life, your physical health, your spiritual vitality in ministry? Again, we’re not…this isn’t guilt and condemnation or shame This is just let’s be honest. When you participate in X, do you feel refreshed? Do you feel like, “Yeah, okay, I’m gonna enter back in,” or do you just feel tired? Do you feel like “Oh, yeah, I gotta go back to my ministry job tomorrow?”
The second diagnostic question would be, are you tempted at all to hide this from other believers you respect? Why?
You know, I’m not tempted to go to like pornography online, but I can spend hours on CNN headlines. I’m just reading the same headlines that I read 30 minutes ago, but it’s like an addiction. “What did he say?” Same thing on the east coast where I live, we have all these hurricanes coming up and so there’s like all this drama on the weather channels and I could just spend hours “Oh, maybe the forecast changed in the last five minutes.” You wouldn’t see that as this big unholy thing, but it’s robbing me from time. Or it’s robbing time. It numbs my mind in a lot of different ways. That’s not a good way for me to recreate. Maybe you’ve heard what one of the church father said, Augustine. He said “Love God and do what you want.”
Now, my 2018 revision of that is this, “Keep yourself in the love of God, flee temptation and have fun.” Augustine was saying love God, which is obedience, which is wisdom, which is holiness and do what you want. Don’t feel guilty about getting a pedicure, having a coffee date, taking a walk by yourself, whatever it might be. What are those things that help you be refreshed, that help you rest, that help you stay in those some of those wisdom, those guardrails that relate to your season that relate to your availability and accessibility?
Let’s return to where we started, keeping ourselves in the love of God. Now, Jude said that we do this while we wait for the mercy of Jesus Christ. What is he talking about here? The mercy of Christ that leads to eternal life. This is when we will be with Him, when we will be free of having to watch over ourselves anymore. That’s how Jude was encouraging us and so sisters, to finish our race of faith well, God guides us to watch over our hearts and lives. Not gritting our teeth but as those who are loved, who are being watched over, and who are called. We’re his that’s already secure, but He asks us, He commands us to run our race of faith. The race marked out for us and to stay in our lane.
Now, this is my Philadelphia 2013 half marathon shirt. Now, on the front, it says, “For the love of running.” I don’t love running. And in 2013, I didn’t run well, as a matter of fact, I didn’t even run I walked. I’m not a rock star runner. Limitations. These 50-something knees can’t do it. But I did finish the race. My form was less than professional. My gear was not high end, it was probably something from a thrift store. But I did finish the race how? One step at a time watching over where my feet were going. I didn’t get off track that day to go to the Independence Hall or to go to the Philadelphia Zoo or to go to the “Rocky” steps at the Art Museum and get a picture a selfie of me pumping my arms up. I didn’t go to those things, even though they’re beautiful parts of our city, I passed by them because they weren’t the finish line.
I want us to close by listening to Psalm 121. Because we are to watch over our souls, we are to watch over our lives, sisters, but ultimately it is God who keeps, who guards and watches over us.
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains, from where shall my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth, He will not allow your foot to slip. He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber, nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper. He’s watching over you. The Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will protect you from all evil. He will keep, He will watch over your soul. The Lord will guard will watch over you’re going out and your coming in, from this time forth and forever. Amen.”
Well, we’ve got just a couple of minutes for some questions. Actually, the next workshop I’m in is in this room, so I’ve got a little extra leeway there. But just any quick questions just before we break, I’ll break you in just a few minutes. So any questions? And keep them brief I’ll repeat them for the recording and for the rest of the group.
So, a question back here. Yeah. Great. Yeah, great question about kind of the other side of, like, how do we draw out women that maybe are, they are like living just to walled-off or not availing themselves or not making themselves accessible?
I think that is where the first point watching over our relationship with Christ comes in. Because our relationship with Jesus is always meant to bear fruit out of it. And that is gonna be different from season-to-season. So I think we need to be willing, that’s where I think we’re blindspots come in, is to be willing to speak in, to invite, to encourage, to even exhort women in their season with what their capability is, to be able to get involved. I think that is a great question, though, for us also, to speak into each other’s lives from different seasons to encourage and draw out. That’s, I mean, that’s good. That’s a tough one. Yeah.
Yep. Yeah, a repeat of the author. The first well, the first was Amy Carmichael God’s Missionary and then Diane Langberg, L-A-N-G-B-E-R-G, In Our Lives First: Meditations for Counselors and this really is a treasure of wisdom from a woman with 40 years experience, mainly in the context of ministry to trauma survivors. Okay, well, Hey, thanks for coming. Hope you have a great rest of your afternoon.