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QUICK SUMMARY: This is part two of three parts – the second myth about “demanding seasons.” You should read the first part (Here) before proceeding for maximum understanding and clarity. Let’s make sure I am clear about what a “demanding season” is. These are times when the press of ministry is more intense than usual. So much so that the intensity and demand disrupts the rhythms that protect your life and relationships. There is a lot of work and only so much time to get it finished. Or a lot of opportunities and only some many people and so much time to capitalize on it. Consequently, the time you spend working begins to push out into the rest of life, past your normal boundaries, straight through your margin, and begins to consume everything in its path. It is when ministry becomes an all-consuming monster that is difficult if not impossible to tame. The press of ministry has grown to the point where it cannot be contained within the normal hours that you routinely set aside for work. Vertical and horizontal relationships are both stretched thin, squeezed, compacted, reduced, and demoted, if not effectively banished. In response we tell ourselves that we will just have to push a little harder, skimp in a few areas, and make a few adjustments and sacrifices, and make it work “for a season.”
Although it is not always easy to tell at first, nature will eventually let you know that one season has passed and the next has arrived. However, when it comes to ministry and serving others, it is far more difficult to tell when a season has ended… or when it should be ended… even if by force! Allowing one season of ministry to blur into the next is dangerous. It is far too easy to be manipulated (or to bias ourselves) with justifications like, “it is a good cause,” “ministry requires sacrifice,” “sometimes you have to adjust your priorities for the sake of the mission.” My favorite? “Well, it is only for a season!”
Our response to these demanding seasons is often to skim on our priorities. By “skim” I mean to quickly or lightly touch while hurriedly passing over it. Think of a stone thrown which such force and velocity that it skips across the surface of the water. We give a cursory glance at people and responsibilities because we feel we do not have the time to do more. We rush and hurry everything-not just work. Conversations, meals, our commute, our sleep… everything is pushed, driven by the feeling (fear) that we will not get it all done if we do not hurry and skim. We treat our responsibilities briefly and superficially. We dabble in things that should never be dabbled with… things that should be a top priority. When it comes to our connection with God, we are trifling with something that should be all-consuming. All that is pressing and urgent gets our attention while we ignore the treasures that are the relationships of life.
In part one, the first of three episodes on the topic, I covered one of the two myths that we believe about these demanding seasons of life.
Myth 1: I Can Get Away With Skimming
- A Lose/Lose Scenario – Everyone Loses
- What is “Skimming?” – Dabbling in What Deserves More
In this second installment, I speak to the second of these two myths (which I am sure is not an exhaustive list by any means) about demanding seasons of ministry, and I make what I feel is a strong case against relational skimming of any kind.
Myth 2: I Can Never Sacrifice Too Much
- What Are Your Priorities? – Don’t Blend or Mix Them Up
- Too Much Sacrifice? – Offering What God Never Asked For
- A Horrible Deed – Sacrificing Children
- Don’t Get Between Your Kids & God – Like the disciples did
- In Case You Missed It – Skimming Is A Bad Idea
Keep reading if you have questions and want more details.
When A Demanding Season Has Been A Long Enough Season (Part 2)
by Pastor Kerry Krissel
GO DEEPER: (Read the QUICK SUMMARY first):
Myth 2: I Can Never Sacrifice Too Much
Yeah, this is also going to take some explaining! There is such a thing as too much sacrifice. Even Jesus modeled this. After intense “seasons” of ministry, he would sneak away for some downtime with the Father, or with his disciples. If a thing of lower priority displaces a thing of higher priority, and does so long enough that it also displaces routines that you put in place to protect the higher priority, you are probably sacrificing too much. Especially if the reversal of priorities last long enough that we create new routines that leave no margin, or insufficient margin, for rest and relationships and the higher priorities. Jesus never modeled mixed-up priorities. Refueling has to happen. Regularly. Perpetual motion is a myth. Every system tends toward decay, not growth. Let a thing run long enough without some sort of attention, maintenance, and refueling, and it will eventually grind to a stop. Just think of stagnating water in a pool that is never agitated. Without stirring (motion, fuel) it grows green, putrid, and a breeding ground for all things nasty! Spending all your time “stirring” ministry while neglecting to “stir” higher responsibilities and relationships leaves them to stagnate… and those “waters” can get even nastier!
What Are Your Priorities? I will share mine to offer you a point of reference:
1. My relationship/time with God
2. My relationship/time with my wife
3. My relationship/time with my kids
4. My relationship/time with family and friends (in our house, many it not most close friends are considered family!)
5. My work/vocation/ministry
Do not confuse what you do with who you are. If “doing” pushes out “being,” the trouble has been brewing long before this tough season began! My number one is not the same priority as number five because relationship and vocation are separate priorities. Just as priority number two is not the same as, and should never be confused with, number 3. When we combine our children with our spouse one of the two will always lose out, usually the spouse, and that is never good for them or the kids. So if number five becomes priority one, you need to restore it to where it belongs, or at least be careful that it does not stay there for an extended period of time. The same is true if you move it to number two or three. Again, relationship comes before occupation, people before doing. Relationships are a responsibility that God expects us to be faithful with just as faithfully as other gifts we are given.
If “doing” pushes out “being,” the trouble has been brewing long before the season began!
Yes, God will indeed call you to sacrifice. He will indeed ask you to serve for a season in ways that will require you to neglect other priorities. Here are two other truths. There is seldom a good reason to neglect family that is dependent on you… to the point that they can no longer depend on you. If God calls us home in death while we sacrificially obey him, that is his business. If we neglect our family responsibilities out of misplaced priorities or poor stewardship (management) of those relationships, it is on us. Neglect is not all bad, it may help teach our kids, for example, that they are not the center of the universe. Parents who show up at every game, concert, or event, do their kids a disservice. Conversely, remain absent until they begin to distrust you and your love for them, and you have a problem… with that child and with God. Faithfulness in relationships that God has placed us in, to be faithful with, is critical. Those seasons must be short or interspersed with an intentional relational effort that is robust enough to protect those relationships. I cannot tell you how many children and spouses have been lost to the kingdom because a significant other ignored them for the misplaced priority of excessively sacrificial ministry.
Too Much Sacrifice?
Let me try to put it to you another way before we think about how to determine how long is long enough, and how to mitigate damage in the midst of an extraordinarily demanding season. There is such a thing as sacrificing something God never asked you to sacrifice. I could not think of a better example than King Saul. He got confused about his priorities a couple times.
1 Samuel 15:22 But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. (NLT)
Obviously, if your sacrifice IS a response to his voice, you are doing well. I would never want to demean the cost that millions of Christian martyrs have paid over the millennia. And I would never want it to be true that I became so consumed with work or ministry that my wife lived as a widow and my kids as orphans, for any “season” of time. I would never want them to begin to resent my ministry or doubt my commitment to them and the family due to real (not perceived) neglect. King Saul once got so focused on an opportunity to advance the kingdom, one that he thought was slipping away, that he did not sacrifice what God did want. Another time he was so confused that he did sacrifice when God did not want. What a mess! What a dire consequence for him and his kin. (1Samuel 13:1-14, 15:1-23)
There is seldom a good reason to neglect family that is dependent on you…
to the point that they can no longer depend on you.
Stay here with me a minute more. Remember Abraham? God told that guy to sacrifice his son to him… on an altar… with fire! That seems a little extreme until you realize that God did not want this dad to actually (literally, physically) sacrifice his son! God was simply testing him to see if he was willing. Willing to put obedience to God before his family. Testing to see if there was something Abraham loved more than God. It is similar to…
Matthew 10:37–39 37 “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. 38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. (NLT)
We must not remember this story about Abraham offering Isaac as half a story. “Well, back in the day, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son to him.” If you are going to remember it, do not take part of it out of the whole of it. Do not change the meaning by robbing it of its context. The thing we must remember is that when the whole story is told, God stopped him from literally taking his son’s life in order to be obedient to God. God provided an alternative for his son. A way to honor and worship God without damaging the boy! If fact, imagine the impression that made on Isaac after the initial shock of his brush with death. He saw his father nearly make the ultimate sacrifice simply because he loved and trusted God enough to do what he says even if it made no sense but required incredible sacrifice. God made a way for this dad to honor God without sacrificing his son. Do I need to repeat it? God’s plan was that Abraham obey him by being willing to hold nothing back from God but never had any intention of letting Abraham actually sacrifice his son to him.
Let me quickly interrupt our chat. If you would like to talk to someone about questions or struggles this article surfaced for you, go to the Two Rivers Counseling Center’s website and look around, and then click the “Get Counseling” link. Or go directly to the “Get Counseling” request form HERE. If you are not local to upsate New York and cannot come to my office, we can always make a virtual appointment by using social media to connect face-to-face. Now back to our discussion.
A Horrible Deed
We can take this a step further. God considered the pagan practice of (literally) sacrificing their children to appease false gods horrible, detestable, evil, an abomination. It never crossed God’s mind that his people should do such a wicked and inconceivable thing as an act of worship. This would have given Abraham even more reason to pause because you have to believe he knew God thought this practice was ghastly even though the words below were written long after he died.
Jeremiah 32:33 & 35 33 My people have turned their backs on me and have refused to return. Even though I diligently taught them, they would not receive instruction or obey… 35 They have built pagan shrines to Baal in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, and there they sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech. I have never commanded such a horrible deed; it never even crossed my mind to command such a thing. What an incredible evil, causing Judah to sin so greatly! (NLT)
I am clearly using the literal sacrifice of one’s children as an illustration of our present-day conversation. It would also then be easy to sensationalize this whole thing and make over-applied sweeping statements using this emotional and ugly conversation to make a point. No, it is not the same thing. Taking the life of a child to honor a false deity is different on many levels from a parent getting sidetracked and falling into neglect of family by good ideals and well-meaning service. But it is not entirely dissimilar either. Could it not be a kind of death to let ministry so consume you that you neglect your children – like they died and you had none – and they, in turn, take it out on God? If they end life still angry and separate from God due in part to our neglect because of over-serving, it would be a real death. A scenario that is so common that I hardly need to state it in order for it to come to most of our minds. I think there is a useful application, and I believe it to be more helpful than not. God does not want (or need) you to sacrifice your children for or to him. That horrible evil never even crossed his mind!
Don’t Get Between Your Kids & God
Jesus even stopped his disciples from preventing kids from coming up to him to be prayed for at their parent’s request (Matthew 19:13-14; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). In fact, he angrily rebuked them for doing so. They thought the kids were bothering Jesus or getting in the way of more important ministry. But he corrected them and used the little ones as an object lesson. Jesus did not seem to think that he should avoid the kids so that he could continue ministering to the adults pressing in around him. I do not think we should get between our kids and God either. The heart of the gospel is about standing up for those who cannot defend themselves and have no champion to do it for them. Unpolluted religion cares for the widow and the orphan (James 1:27), perfect examples of those who are exposed, defenseless, and needing a protector. You may have thought it true, but Father God would never neglect or abandoned his kids (us who accept his redemption) because he was busy balancing the universe. I for one am very thankful for that example!
I would never want it to be true that I became so consumed with work or ministry
that my wife lived as a widow and my kids as orphans…
In Case You Misses It
In case you did not glean this from what I said up to this point, I think skimming is a bad idea all around. Especially when protracted. Extended “seasons” of skimming on God and loved ones are a mistake, if not sin. At the very least they will lead to sin. Something will have to give and when that something is relationships, think long and hard about the long-term impacts of that sacrifice, one that you will not be immediately seen. Sacrificing your spouse or children on the altar of ministry is a very serious decision. I know of no Biblical example where young kids or a wife or husband was knowingly and deliberately sacrificed as a result of God’s demand or in a way the was applauded and rewarded by God. And by “sacrifice” I mean to deliberately leave your loved ones to languish or starve, physically or emotionally, when the power to provide is in your hands.
In fact, God’s commands for Hosea regarding his wife Gomer, who was repeatedly and grievously unfaithful, were the reverse. And in Ephesians God calls for husbands to sacrifice to protect family not expose them. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and give themselves up for her. To sacrifice themselves, not sacrifice her (Ephesians 5:25). What is pure and undefiled religion in God’s sight? It is caring for orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27; comp Isaiah1:17). Further, the requirements for a church leader are that they care for their household, and failure to do so disqualifies them from the office (1Timothy 3:4-5). Failure to care for relatives, especially ones in our immediate family, means we have denied the faith and are worse than non-believers (1Timothy 5:8). Surely that speaks to the issue at hand.
By “sacrifice” I mean to deliberately leave loved ones to languish or starve,
physically or emotionally, when the power to provide is in your hands.
I will not even bother to outline the danger and problem of skimming on our relationship with God. Suffice it to say that “spiritual growth” is growing deeper, closer to God, not flagging or drifting away. How does backsliding due to lightly and hurriedly hitting our relationship with God for months on end (even to serve or promote the gospel) reflect anything the Bible teaches or models regarding following God? Even while Jesus was making the ultimate sacrifice, one that caused him to feel forsaken by the Father because he turned his back on Jesus in that the moment the world’s sins were placed on him, Jesus was still crying out to him (Matthew 27:46-50). And the separation was short… count them… only three days!
I think it is interesting that one possible reason Jesus began his ministry later in life, not the only reason to be sure, was that apparently Joseph died when Jesus was younger. In that culture, it left Jesus responsible to take care of his mom and younger siblings. Is it possible that even Jesus put off his ordained sacrifice until he had satisfied his family obligations? Think about that for a few minutes. The most important mission that ever was undertaken was put off temporarily at least in part because those who had no provider needed attention! Remember, Jesus had no wife or kids who were counting on him so after leaving home he could serve quite freely. Only occasionally do you see him needing to deal with family issues. And a martyr’s sacrificial death was his mission, which may in part be one reason he never married. So, what I am talking about is not skimming on or neglecting a relationship for which one is still responsible and able to care for and protect, for any reason. Jesus’ example tells us that there is no good reason to do so!
In the final of three articles, I will make seven practical suggestions for how to navigate these demanding seasons, given the reality of these two myths.
Again, if you would like to talk to someone about questions or struggles this article surfaced for you, go to the Two Rivers Counseling Center’s website and look around, and then click the “Get Counseling” link. Or go directly to the “Get Counseling” request form HERE. If you are not local to upsate New York and cannot come to my office, we can always make a virtual appointment by using social media to connect face-to-face.
Photo by Aaron Burden (aaronburden.com) on Upsplash