Pastor Tim Keller, who has had a significant ministry to men in New York City, has found that gaining or losing significance is clearly one of the basic motivational drives in the lives of the men he has known. He has observed that the thought of failure to most men is such a nightmare that it can be equated only to a kind of psychological death. So could it be possible that most men are driven not primarily to succeed, but rather are driven not to fail. This reality is compounded when it become apparent that most men do not know how to share with others men their fears, particularly if it might make them look weak or like a failure. Inevitably, when men clam up, they will carry their load alone and withdraw emotionally from others.
I can give testimony to this dynamic in my life. I spent 15 years (1976-1990) in a wonderful ministry at Redeemer Lutheran church in Des Moines, Iowa. But in the midst of all the good things God seemed to be doing in our church, I had made the success of the church an idol. I took pride in the fact that we were a unique “charismatic” Lutheran church in central Iowa. But the last year saw the dismantling of that ministry. What I thought was impossible happened. I was not able to keep the church united with “my caring pastoral presence.” Along with the church being an idol, my pride in being a caring pastor was exposed. I left a broken man. It took me a year to recover. There were days when I actually wondered if I could continue as a pastor.
That happened over 20 years ago and it changed the course of my journey. At the age of 50 I finally was able to give up what I called “the big deal.” I did not have to be important or significant any longer. Being successful and have a rising career in the Lutheran church receded as a focus. I went to a small, insignificant church in rural Minnesota and started to learn to “just be” and see God in the ordinary. My self worth and image of self had less to do with my performance. I began to simply enjoy the presence of God in my life as I went about being a pastor. I could even accept the fact that other pastors saw me as insignificant in my country church. I finally could find peace living as a “nobody” in the eyes of the greater church.
My testimony to any man reading this blog is this – my giving up “the big deal” brought me a freedom and joy that I had not known when I was caught in my “performance trap.” The pressure was off – I had a peace and restfulness that I had not known before. I learned that “being” and “becoming” who I am in Jesus, is much more spiritually rewarding then having to perform so as to be signifcant in the eyes of others, especially pastors.
Two passages of scripture became important in my “recovery” from having to live with “the big deal.” The first was in Isaiah 30: 15. “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength..” The four words repentance, rest, quietness and trust became important in those next years in rural Minnesota. As I learned to repent of my self-righteousness behavior in needing to be successful, I found rest from having to perform. I began calling myself “a recovering pharisee.” Living a quiet life of contemplation began to be part of the rythmn of life, as I trusted God to do his work in his way through me.
The other passage was from Ps. 18:19. “He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” “Spiritual space” became a new reality. I was not as full of my ideas, plans and desires. It was more about what God wanted and who he was in my life. I found spacious in me that allowed for freedom and joy. The fear of what people thought of me receded as I began enjoying simply “practicing the presence of God.” I was still highly motivated but for the right reasons.