Renewal as a Way of Life
Daily disciplines to restore your mind, body and spirit
Two years ago, we reached a point in ministry where we felt depleted. We were aware of the dangers of burnout. We had worked with many missionaries and pastors who had experienced it. Yet we struggled to grasp the reality that we were flirting with it ourselves. When we finally let our guard down to some of our closest friends, they convinced us to take a few weeks to rest, regroup, and direct our thoughts away from work and toward God.
During our time away, we looked to Him to renew the parts of us that we acknowledged were withering on the vine. We disconnected from email, social media and ministry responsibilities, and we let the Holy Spirit do His work.
We didn’t experience a dramatic turnaround, but God birthed an intentionality within us that prompted gradual and fundamental change — both a change of heart and a change in the way we choose to live out our faith. We have sensed a greater willingness to wait on God to intervene in areas where faith and trust don’t always come easily. We also made a conscious decision to use our limited time and energy more intentionally. Not every challenge we meet requires an emotional investment on our part. In fact, most do not.
As Pentecostals, we have an affinity for transformational events. Although there may be pivotal periods that lead to a renewal process, we concluded that personal renewal is not a singular event, or even a series of events. Rather, it’s the result of a lifestyle that is in the process of transformation. Renewal may look a bit different for each person. However, there are characteristics of a renewed life that we can trust God to develop in us.
Isaiah 40:31 speaks of the renewed strength that comes to those who wait on God: “They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” It’s a divine energy that enables us to weather life’s storms, rise above defeat, and overcome the day-to-day struggles that can easily drain us.
Leaning on God’s strength increases our resilience as we encounter crises and deal with everyday aspects of living in a fallen world. As God continues to renew us, we sense the strength His Word promises, and we have fresh vision for the future.
There is no separating spirit from mind and body. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, each part affecting the whole, intertwined in a marvelous way. Even so, we must purposefully care for each of those parts in a way that will foster renewal and bring life. Let’s look at the challenges and corresponding action steps related to a holistic renewal process.
As people of the Spirit, we gravitate toward life. It’s unfortunate that people sometimes mistake trend, style and hype for the Spirit. For those of us with low levels of creativity, it’s liberating to recognize that deeper doesn’t necessarily mean newer. The same spiritual practices that provided stamina in previous generations can strengthen us today. Four disciplines come to mind.
Praying in the Spirit. As Pentecostals, we are no strangers to the experience of speaking in tongues. We may, however, need reminders of the importance of continually relying on the Spirit in this way.
Seeking quiet time with God. The art of listening reaps no greater benefit than when we are alone with Jesus. The pressure to maintain a certain level of noise and chatter must yield to the need for silence. The past several years, we have craved quiet. We have actively searched for opportunities for quiet times — both in corporate and private settings. To survive the demands of ministry in the 21st century, we must become intentional about finding quiet spaces where we can hear the voice of God.
Looking to history. Incorporating into our devotional time the writings and prayers of great Christians who walked the road of faith and ministry before us has given us new insights. For instance, St. Augustine said that if he had to eliminate all but one of the spiritual disciplines, he would keep the examen. This ancient discipline is a simple exercise consisting of reflecting on the day, thanking God for the things we got right, confessing to Him the areas in which we missed it, and seeking forgiveness and strength to do better tomorrow.
We can never overstate the importance of acknowledging before God our sins and asking for His merciful forgiveness. We frequently end our day by taking 10 to 15 minutes to pray and quietly reflect. A benefit is a sense of closure to the day.
Practicing the Sabbath. Drawing boundaries and guarding a weekly day of rest is crucial. For ministers, finding the time for this may be the most significant challenge of all. Yet a chronic lack of rest stymies the quest for personal renewal.
Our lives are in constant forward motion, and the health in which we journey into that future depends, to a large extent, on our emotional strength. Negative thoughts, unforgiveness, and anxiety bring a fog of heaviness and chronic weariness. We don’t have to live that way. Romans 12:2 reminds us that the renewing of the mind brings transformation. This transformation isn’t a one-time event; it’s a lifestyle — a daily decision to trust Jesus and follow His example.
By adulthood, our thinking patterns and the way we view ourselves are well-established. Reprogramming years of negative thought and behavior habits can seem like an insurmountable task. But nothing is impossible with God. He wants His children to experience less stress, anxiety, and depression, and more hope, energy, and peace.
When we slow down and pay attention, we can track our thought processes — those cognitive journeys that bring us to particular conclusions. We can then balance those against the truth of God’s Word and the reality of our current circumstances. Sometimes it’s beneficial to talk with someone who can offer feedback, such as a family member or trusted friend. If needed, we shouldn’t hesitate to seek professional help.
How do we change what we don’t know, and how do we determine where to start? Consider four areas of choice that pertain to healthy emotional living. Over the course of a year, we repeatedly decide between two antithetical ways of living life.
Forgiveness vs. bitterness. Jesus gave the best example of forgiveness while on the cross when He asked the Father to forgive those who were crucifying Him (Luke 23:34).
We can’t go back and undo hurts we caused or injustices and betrayals others inflicted on us. However, we can choose to forgive. We can also learn not to confuse forgiveness and trust. We don’t have to put ourselves back into a volatile situation, and we won’t always forget the pain. But hurtful events can become part of life’s narrative without the bitterness that previously characterized those memories.
We must become intentional about finding quiet spaces where we can hear the voice of God.
Just as we forgive others, we must learn to forgive ourselves. Choosing to learn from personal mistakes and refusing to ruminate on the “what-ifs” or the “if onlys” makes it possible to extend the same compassion to ourselves that we would offer others. Letting God’s grace flow inward allows us to move on in freedom and confidence, rather than remaining bogged down in the past.
Truth vs. lies. To deal with truth and the reality of any situation, we must overcome the inner critic. If left unchallenged, automatic negative thoughts (ANTS) will stir up regret about the past, steal joy from the present, and drain hope from the future — leaving us with a fatalistic and pessimistic attitude that will define our perceptions. Separating our ANTS (such as I should have done better, I’m a failure, or Nobody likes me) from reality will help us examine the facts clearly and logically to make wise and healthy decisions.
We must also guard against making assumptions about things we can’t see or know. Ascribing motives to the behaviors of others or assuming we understand someone else’s point of view is not helpful in the quest for truth.
Rational vs. emotional. Emotions alone aren’t enough to determine the accuracy of an idea. Although they can inform us that something is off balance, we must still backtrack our thoughts to their origin to determine the accuracy of a conclusion. Once determined, we can filter those thoughts, distinguish between fact and fiction, and deal with the truth.
Emotions such as fear, shame, doubt and anxiety can drive us to form unrealistic core beliefs about ourselves. Balancing those against the Word of God, the truth in our circumstances and feedback from others creates a healthier emotional space for approaching life.
Positive vs. negative. Philippians 4:8 provides the foundation for a simple practice of changing personal negativity to a more positive life outlook. Taking time to think about God’s goodness — such as listing three things for which we are thankful at the end of each day — fosters a grateful attitude that contraindicates destructive and unhelpful thoughts.
As Christ followers, we shouldn’t base our behavior on how we feel, our circumstances or our interactions with others. Our emotions and desires stem from our thinking, and those thought processes must undergo renewal, through the guidance and powerful help of the Holy Spirit, on a daily basis. Although it may sound trite, if we change our mind, we change our life.
Although Jesus ministered to the multitudes and to individuals, He sought relationship with a small circle of close friends. Jesus’ most intimate moments, and some of His most intense conflicts, took place within this circle. While ministers frequently emphasize the importance of community, we are sometimes the worst at solidifying this area of spiritual living.
The ordinance of Communion establishes and illustrates the importance of both vertical and horizontal relationships as we remember Christ’s sacrifice and look to the future as members of His Church. Just as we acknowledge our faith as a community of believers at Communion, we should live out our faith in the presence of community.
When Paul spoke to the Galatians about “bearing one another’s burdens,” he was referring to situations God never intended one person to bear alone. Sometimes God allows circumstances to develop in our lives that we are unprepared to deal with on our own. During those times, members of our community walk alongside us, assuming some of the weight of the burden until it is no longer necessary.
For the minister, community can be a tricky business. Although the local church provides an element of community, ministers should also build relationships of mutual accountability and trust outside the congregation. Here are some questions to consider as you seek community:
- Is my community providing a safety net for me and my loved ones — a loving place where we can find shelter from the storm?
- Is mutual accountability a part of my community?
- Do the members of my community have my permission to speak to the challenging areas of my life and ministry, and do I have permission to do the same with them?
- Does my community maintain confidentiality?
Aside from contributing to longevity, finding and remaining part of a healthy community can play a key role in personal renewal.
If our body is a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit, shouldn’t we take care of ourselves in a way that glorifies God and positions us for personal growth and renewal? Some scholars have estimated that Jesus averaged 20 to 25 miles of walking per day during His ministry. His ability to maintain this pace indicates a history of taking care of himself.
When physical health is poor, it can affect the mind and spirit. Sleep, exercise and nutrition are three basic building blocks for physical health.
Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep. Studies show sleep deprivation can lead to poor performance on complex mental tasks. A lack of sleep can also trigger weight gain. Learning to disconnect prior to bedtime is important. Reading a book, as opposed to engaging in social media or watching television, can help calm the mind and body for sleeping. The effects of diet and caffeine intake on sleep vary from person to person, so it pays to know one’s body and what helps with relaxation and sleep.
That brings us to diet, which affects more than just weight. Food choices can impact sleep, mood, energy levels and general health. A healthy diet can also have a positive effect on spiritual disciplines. It’s easier to focus on prayer, Bible study and ministry when you don’t feel weak and sick. Understanding basic dietary guidelines is essential to eating well. Websites and smartphone apps, such as MyFitnessPal, can be valuable tools.
Physical activity is also vital. Some people dismiss the need for exercise, citing Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:8: “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things.”
Of course, the pursuit of righteousness takes precedence over the pursuit of fitness. But that hardly means Paul and Timothy were sedentary. In fact, life in the first century mandated a level of exercise that is not essential in 21st-century America. Unfortunately, many people today fail to compensate with intentional exercise.
Like sleep patterns and diet, there is not a one-size-fits-all plan for physical fitness. For those who are healthy enough for basic exercise, Assemblies of God missionary and personal fitness consultant Brandon Newman recommends incorporating at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking) or 75 minutes of intense exercise (such as running) every week.
“Doing so will help control appetite, boost mood and improve sleep patterns, as well as reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia, depression and many cancers,” Newman says.
Although we often think of personal renewal in terms of dramatic events that bring us closer to the Cross, it’s often the daily disciplines — spiritual, mental, relational and physical — that pave the way for renewed health. Regardless of what the year holds, taking inventory of these areas of our lives, prayerfully setting goals and exercising intentionality will make a marked difference in overall health, while putting us in a better place to experience the renewal we crave.
AG Ministerial Helpline
The Assemblies of God cares deeply for the spiritual and emotional health of those who faithfully serve the Fellowship. The General Council in partnership with EMERGE Counseling Services provides confidential, professional consultation via the Ministerial Helpline. The number (see the back of your credential card) is reserved exclusively for clergy, missionaries and spouses.
Professional, Spirit-filled counselors are available at no charge 30 hours per week. All details of the call are strictly confidential, and there is no attempt to identify the caller. Callers are provided a personal identification number should a follow-up consultation or referral be desired.
Are you lonely, anxious, depressed, depleted, conflicted or stressed? You are not alone. Ministry is difficult. EMERGE is here for you. Don’t suffer in silence ... get the help you need and deserve. Call for prayer, encouragement and confidential consultation. If you would like to follow up with a Christian counselor in your area, simply provide a zip code, and we will forward a list of Christian professionals in your locale who have completed a screening assessment.
For anonymous and confidential counseling, call 1-800-867-4011, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. CST, Monday-Friday.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2018 edition of Influence magazine.