There will always be too much to do. This is probably true for most adults in both their personal and professional lives. And it’s certainly true for pastors. But Jesus told the disciples over and over again they were not alone in the work he was calling them to do. The Holy Spirit would come to be with them, to be their Advocate and God’s presence with them.
This Sunday is Pentecost, another one of my favorite Sundays. (Do pastors get to have several “favorite” Sundays?) We remember and celebrate the day the Holy Spirit came in tongues of fire to the assembly of disciples; the Jews from every nation who were gathered in Jerusalem could understand what the disciples said, each in their own native language. The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, and from that day the Church of Jesus Christ was born.
One of my favorite prayers at meetings and in my congregation recently has been, “Open our hearts and minds to your Spirit’s movement among us…” This is an invitation to God, asking God to not only open our hearts and minds, but also to be alive among us, to fill us with the Holy Spirit. In my understanding of who God is and what God wants for us in scripture, I see visions of justice, love, joy, and abundant life. I don’t see stress, worry, condemnation, and fear. So while we are called to work with God and each other to teach, baptize, bring new life, love our neighbor, and care for the sick/lonely/mourning/imprisoned, I don’t think this is meant to be at the expense of our own life (health, family, friends, etc.).
So here are 5 ways we might surrender to God and allow the Holy Spirit to fill us and use us. These are not new or mind-boggling suggestions, but I think we all need the reminder sometimes…
1. Pray. It’s so obvious, right? But if we try to make it through our day without prayer and conversation with God, we too easily focus on our tasks and on ourselves, losing sight of God’s bigger picture. It’s also easy to forget that each of us, in our fallible state, is a beloved child of God.
If you are having trouble setting the to-do list aside or finding more than a minute without a visitor/phone call/email notification, try taking a 20-minute Sabbath. You’ve probably heard of 20-minute workouts or meals, so what about a 20-minute break in your day to pray, to get up and walk outside, to sit and listen for God, to focus on your breathing, to pull a book off your shelf that you’ve been staring at for years?
2. Delegate. Sometimes it seems so much easier to do something myself because I am the one in the church office with access to everything, and I am the one getting a paycheck from the church. But ministry is meant to be shared, and we are called to empower our lay leaders. During a meeting, consider signing up for less, or encourage committees to reach out to more people for help with big projects. Collaborate with other staff members, and utilize the gifts of others. Or, just ask for help. It may not always work out the way you hope, but it’s worth the effort.
3. Keep it simple. So you have BIG visions for Pentecost Sunday, and you’ve found some incredible ideas from other churches online: children waving red ribbons, musicians on guitar, piano, and drums, a parade around the church, a birthday cake for the church for fellowship time, a shared sermon with five voices, and the prayers spoken in eight languages. Reality check: this may not all need to happen at once. Consider choosing 1-2 new ways of celebrating Pentecost this year, and file away the rest for next year. It doesn’t always have to be big and amazing to be meaningful. God is present in the stillness and silence too.
4. Let it go. (Yes, I have a certain Disney song providing the soundtrack in my mind as I think about this one…). If we are going to be available to serve the people and go where they are, we will have to learn to let go of some things. This goes back to keeping it simple, but we need to help the people in our congregations understand that letting go can be a sacred act. We may not have a program/project/event forever, so we need to be open to the Spirit’s leading into new and different ways of being and serving. This is hard, and it does take time. Or, you may just have to let go of trying to please everyone in the congregation.
5. Trust God. We really do have to remember that we are not alone, and it’s not all about us. The irony is that we won’t be as willing to trust God if we don’t set aside the tasks and spend time with God. In doing less, we can see where and how God is in control. God loves us. The Spirit is indeed alive and at work among us.
How do you make room for the Spirit in your work? How do you focus on your relationship with God in the midst of work and ministry?