by Michael Whitworth
Like many of you, I struggle to find balance in my life, and my wife and I don’t even have kids yet, which means some of you reading this are mumbling, “Just you wait.” But as it now stands, my days are busy with lessons to prepare, hospitals to visit, projects to plan and complete, sermons to write, bills to pay, errands to run, cars to maintenance, a lawn to cut, and a dog to walk. When I get done with these responsibilities, there is always my health that I have to see to, which too often gets put on the back burner. And there is my relationship with God that needs constant investment, and in a way that moves beyond daily Bible reading and random prayers. How can I juggle all of these things at once?
My comments in this article are not going to be stylish bullet points. Nor will they be neat-and-tidy sayings because very little in my life is neat-and-tidy, not even my bed. But I do want to discuss some biblical truths that have contributed a framework for balance in my life. When things become unbalanced in my world, I often discover that I have not lived out one or some of these truths.
The first truth is that God rested on the seventh day, and the world didn’t crash around him (Gen. 2:1-3), so I can probably get away with the same thing. In the past several months, I have fanatically taken Monday as a day off, and my elders encourage me in this. They go the extra mile of seeing to ministry needs on Monday so that I do not have to, and I am grateful for that. On my day off, I like to flip through magazines, watch a few favorite TV shows on the DVR, sleep in, walk the dog, sit in a restaurant with a good book, daydream about future vacations, and anything else I have a whim to do. In short, I try to enjoy this gift of life that God has bestowed. You can call it my “stop and smell the roses” day.
I know I won’t always be able to do this, but I’m enjoying it now.
If you’re a minister, I strongly encourage you to take a day off. I know that Christians are not bound by Sabbath rules, but the person you (hopefully) preach about each week took regular time-off to go to a private place and pray (Mark 1:35). The less you emulate him in this practice, the less you will emulate him in other ways. It’s just a matter of time.
For parents, this may be more difficult, but still seek time where you can be alone and not be “mom and dad” for a while. Hire a babysitter. Agree to watch the kids while your spouse enjoys a “me” half-day. Do things that refresh your soul. You won’t regret it.
The second truth I have learned is that I must segment my life, not in what I do, but how I do things. Some ministers have the mindset that, at a certain point, they have “done their job,” which really means that they don’t have to do things that “aren’t their job.” Youth ministers use this excuse to not visit hospitals. Preachers use this excuse to not host teen devotionals or teach young children’s classes with their wives.
I have learned the hard way that after my job as preacher has been done, there are still some things that I need to do as a Christian. So I seldom visit hospitals any more as a preacher. I go as a Christian (Matt. 25:36). Ironically, I enjoy going as a Christian more than as the preacher. I usually stay longer and find myself encouraged more than my doing the encouraging (I still take advantage of clergy parking; is that unethical?).
In short, I have found it restorative to do things as a Christian. It helped me rediscover the joy of ministry to God’s glory, not ministry for a paycheck. Desiring to see God exalted and his kingdom expanded will always motivate me more than $$ (I’m defective like that). It allows me to feel closer to God during the act. When I did things “as the preacher,” it only made me feel like a better preacher. I was doing these things because that’s what the elders and the brethren expected. Doing things as a Christian? I do those things because Jesus asked me to, and he loves me more than anyone ever will.
A third truth is to find a sort of system that works for you to keep track of your responsibilities. I’ve known of people who were really good at keeping day-planners or date-books. Others keep a notebook in a pocket or rely on a secretary to help them remember appointments, tasks, and projects. Some simply tie string around their fingers or wear rubber bands on their wrists. I use an app on my iPhone to remind me to do this or that. Whatever system works for you, find one that works for you.
Along with this, put a limit on time-wasters. Surfing the Internet. Social media. Watching too many movies or television shows. Find a way to discipline yourself so that you don’t immerse yourself in these things when there is work to be done.
A fourth truth is related; make time to record your thoughts and journal where you are spiritually. I have never been faithful in keeping a journal, but blogging has helped me sort out frustrations and questions I had. Find a system that works for you, but a written archive of your spiritual journey can be very edifying. As I flip through blog posts from six, twelve, and eighteen months ago, I am reminded that God has faithfully brought me through many storms, and this prompts me to respond in praise and dedication to the tasks he has for me to do.
A fifth truth is the importance of immersing yourself in Scripture. In daily life, we are bombarded with one ungodly concept, value, or belief after another. Radio. TV. Newspapers. Magazines. Billboards. Internet Forums. Social Media. Personal interaction with friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors. The great thing about personal Bible study is that it constantly gives us a grid or framework to interact with these ideas. With a deeper communion with God in Scripture, we learn that some things aren’t nearly as important as we thought they were, and other things are more important than we previously thought. Did I treat the restaurant waitress as someone who was made in God’s image, as one for whom Christ died? Is it always a good thing to stand up for my rights as an American or as a consumer? Would our nations’ problems really be fixed with a Republican White House or a Democratic Congress?
Reading through Scripture, particularly the New Testament, reminds us that the world will always be the world; what remains for Christians is to set our mind on things above (Col. 3:2), seek first the kingdom (Matt. 6:33), and spread the aroma of Christ (2 Cor. 2:15) as ambassadress of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). Homelessness, crime, corruption, terrorism, racism, classism, economic hardship, and people doing stupid things have always been an issue for humanity. Some things never change. But don’t worry about what you can’t control; worry about what is directly subject to your influence.
Finally, pray. I can say it as Paul says it—“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). But boil that all down, and he is saying that prayer brings balance to life.
Specifically, pray that God would give you balance. Ask God to identify for you the things that need attention today, and those things that can be put off until tomorrow. Ask God to give understanding to those who you will let down today. People can have insane expectations; not even God can please everyone. At the end of the day, you answer to God and no one else, not the brethren, not your elders, no one other than God. Ask that God be relentless in keeping himself squarely at the center of your field of vision. Ask that he give you grace when you take your eye off the ball. Ask that he juggle all of your daily responsibilities and reign over the fray.
Finally, glory in a God who created the wonder of the universe in six days, and then felt it important to rest on the seventh. Glory in a God who, on our worst, most dis-organized day, remembers that we are dust (Psa. 103:14). Glory in a God who is greater than all things, even our terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days when it seems that everything is about to crash down on us.
I particularly love God on those days.