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Reflection No. 21

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Reflection by Peter Brain

A hypocrite to my feelings but not to my purposes!

After looking forward to our first Sunday back for worship together I have been taken-a-back by my feelings. Not only were my feelings somewhat ambivalent as we drove to church but I felt a sense of let-down as we drove home. The service was helpful, the singing encouraging, the preaching edifying and there were a good number of people present. I have spent the last 24 hours or so trying to work out why I, who normally look forward to church and have never in my life gone home sorry that I have been, am feeling the way I do.

I think Christine and I have figured out why I came away feeling deflated. It was in major part because of the sense of isolation many of my brothers and sisters in Christ must feel. This came into sharp focus by the regulated seating arrangements where those who are single, separated, widowed, lone Christians within their families sitting by themselves isolated, and I able to sit with Christine, and families together. It highlighted the joy of Christian worship and fellowship which sees us as a family of believers, both masked and overcome, as we normally sit together.

It has also occurred to me, and I say it lest any think, mistakenly, that I am super-spiritual, that it is too easy to lose a good habit, and even more importantly, the reasons and motivations for that habit, after just a few weeks. I pulled out my copy of Dr Arch Hart’s, Habits of the Mind (Word Publishing 1996) and was helped by his comment without practice, no habit is going to stick. Some may even require a few months exercise time before you see them take root and make a difference in your life. Habits and practice are essential to a happy and productive life in general and especially so for us as disciples (Mt. 6:2,5,16; 7:24;13:23, John 10:9, 27; 15:4,,5,9-10; Acts 20:35; Rom 6:13, 12:1-2, 8, 13; Gal 6:7-10; Eph. 5:18; Heb. 3:7, 14-15; 2 Pet 1:3-11). The good habits that have sustained us during isolation have borne their fruit and the broken habit of not gathering is threatening to keep me from appreciating and contributing whole-heartedly to the normal habit of gathering. Satan is very smart in that the good habits formed in isolation threaten to keep me from the blessings of those formed and proven over 55 years of discipleship.

There is a certain appeal in being independent of others. Thankfully, I know that this appeal must be resisted like the plague since it will do me no lasting good if pursued. Dr Larry Crabb’s dictum has helped me for almost 40 years, is especially helpful to me at this time: I’d rather be a hypocrite to my feelings rather than to my purposes. I have no doubt that as I follow my purpose to be a loyal believer and serving fellow Christian (Heb. 10:24-25, Eph. 4:15-16, 5:15-21) my feelings will quickly follow and catch up with my purposes, which I trust line up with God’s. Put another way practice makes permanent, for better or for worse. Which is why I must intentionally sow to the Spirit (Gal.6:8).

But I am not alone in these adjustments. My heart has gone out to pastors who have worked hard to implement ways of keeping their congregations connected to God and to each other. It has meant a massive learning curve for many in being able to master enough of new technology to do it well. At the same time, many pastors’ thoughts have run along the lines of “I hope they will remain steadfast”. When the adrenalin rush of normal weekly preparation and the good-stress (eustress) of being engaged in the greatest job in the world are combined with the loss of week by week preaching and pastoral face to face contact, most pastors will be in need of good rest. Pastors’ normal restful let-down period every Sunday evening and Monday morning that has been out of sync for the past few months will need to be recognised by them, their congregational leaders and members, as a natural part of the way our Father has made us to manage and thrive through the pressures and deadlines of life. Most of the pastors I know will not see this as an excuse for laziness, and many will just try to power their way through it with longer hours. This approach can only lead to burnout, less being accomplished and a diminished sense of achievement. A great service we can render to our pastors is to see this tiredness not as sinfulness or laziness, but as a time for affirmation and encouragement, to make sure they are taking their day(s) off and perhaps have a day or two extra to recharge the batteries. Needless to say, there will be no greater tonic for them (and us) of our turning up joyfully.

It would be sinful, however, for pastors to forget that as human beings they are subject to the way God has made us, with His loving provisions of: 4th commandment day of rest, night-time hours for sleep, holy-days (= agreed holidays), roses to smell, friendships to nourish and Creation to enjoy; all so necessary for our refreshment and working well. Most pastors, comments Arch Hart, burn out not because they forget they are pastors but because they forget they are people. It would also be sinful for church members to expect the health of our church life to be dependent on pastors alone. One of the great benefits of the isolation has been the wonderful co-operation of pastors and people whose complementary gifts of energy and pastoral care have seen great blessings to so many, and above all to the Name and glory of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

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