A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
Paying Attention to Yourself
June 6, 2013
Last week in this space I warned against taking ourselves too seriously. Today I offer a counterpoint of sorts, urging us to pay more attention to ourselves.
At this time each year I meet with the summer Crestfield staff, to help them understand how their work is a critical part of Pittsburgh Presbytery’s mission, and to encourage them to be attentive to how the Holy Spirit is giving them special gifts to share with others. I thank them for all they will do to make a real difference in the lives of campers, and I encourage them to pay close attention not only to their campers, but also to themselves. I would offer a similar challenge to any person who will be doing some special work for Christ’s sake this summer, such as going on a mission trip, leading a Bible School class, or volunteering with a local ministry agency.
First, pay attention to those whom you serve. Real ministry addresses real need; we can’t pre-package and dispense ministry as a one-size-fits-all product. We may find that some folk need something far different from what we had planned to offer, and we need to be attentive enough to give them what they truly need, rather than just what we’d prepared for them in advance.
Second, and this is at least as important – pay attention to yourself as you serve others. Take note of the kinds of service that drain you, and the kinds that energize you. We can’t avoid every task that we find taxing, but we build energy to engage such tasks by investing ourselves in tasks that do energize us.
As we engage in Christian service, we need to pay especially close attention to the places where we are energized by our work, because that gives us clues about how the Holy Spirit’s gifts are at work in us. It is a way to diagnose where the Spirit has given us something to share with others – that is, it helps us identify our spiritual gifts. All of us have been given spiritual gifts for the benefit of others (1 Corinthians 12:7). The question is not whether we have spiritual gifts, but what they are and how we can exercise them most fully.
In 2 Timothy 1:6, Timothy is urged to “fan into flame the gift of God which is in you.” In order for us to do this, we need to know the difference between doing a job and exercising a spiritual gift. There are many jobs we are called to do, and they may in fact need to be done; but there are particular tasks for which God endows us with special gifts. How do we identify and develop these God-given gifts?
I suggest to our summer camp staff that they can learn where their spiritual gifts lie by taking special note of what parts of their work energize them. When we give others something from our own resources, our resources are thereby naturally depleted. But when we give others something that comes from God’s storehouse, we are simply transmitting God’s gifts, and so giving them to others doesn’t deplete us. To the contrary, we are energized because we see others benefit through what we have been privileged to give to them, without our being depleted thereby whatsoever.
Some things I need to do wear me out just thinking about them! And yet I do them, because they need to be done and I am responsible to get them done. The only joy I may feel in doing them is the joy of checking them off my to-do list. But some activities so captivate me that I lose all track of time. I have sometimes pulled an all-nighter doing something, yet felt energized in the morning (though I must confess that as I get older, such events are fewer and farther between). When in doing something to serve our Lord I find myself more energized than depleted, I have learned to recognize that as an area in which the Holy Spirit has given me special gifts to benefit others.
So pay attention to ministry activities that revitalize you, and focus on investing yourself in those places of ministry. Give as much of yourself as you can to work you find energizing, and you will develop sufficient energy to sustain you through work that is more naturally draining to you.
Someone once told me that if I want be free to do what I love doing, I need to be willing to do a bunch of stuff I don’t love so much. I’d like to flip that – if we want sufficient energy to do the work we find difficult, we need to give ourselves as much as possible to work that energizes us.
As you offer yourself for special ministry projects this summer – especially ministry you do not usually engage – I invite you to pay close attention to yourself. Note what energizes you most, then fan that flame brightly for the sake of the kingdom of God.
Stirring up God’s gifts,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister
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