Jim Martin's Encouragement Note #57


Do you ever feel as if you just don’t have enough? You may not have enough time, money, or help. Scarcity seems to rule. When things seem to be scarce, you and I may resort to worry.

The List of Five

When You Worry

It happened about 3:00 AM, in the middle of the night. I was worried about a situation involving one of our children. As you may have experienced in your own life, one worry often leads to another.

We begin to imagine the worst - “What if?”

In the middle of the night, the feared outcome may be serious, catastrophic, or disastrous. My thinking can shift from a present problem, to anxious striving, and then to the feared outcome.

As a result, I can become more focused on striving (usually accompanied by much anxiety!) instead of learning to walk by faith.

Anxious striving has a way of reminding us just how small we are and how large our problems seem to be. In the meantime, God might also seem small — too small for prayer and too small to lean on.

Notice for a moment the picture at the top of the page. Can you relate to these areas of worry?

  1. Things I worry about - I could share a long list of things I have worried about. These range from the serious to the sublime.

  2. Things that can happen - Sometimes, we might worry about things that are not even in the realm of possibility.

  3. Things that actually do happen - It helps me to see how small this is in the picture above. Compared to things that I actually worry about, the disastrous outcome is typically very small.

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Overcommitted and Tired?

Many of us are burdened by the load we are carrying. Some may feel as if we, alone, are carrying the weight of our problems on our shoulders.  Yet, when we constantly feel such a burden, we are probably not going to be fresh and alive for the long haul.

In addition to our problems, part of what we may be carrying is emotional freight that doesn’t help. 

Some of us know what it is to be angry.  We resent what happened behind closed doors in a church meeting. We resent being treated unfairly, being underpaid, and hearing so many unkind words.

Some may begin to feel entitled or complacent. We feel like we deserve a life better than this. We may begin taking shortcuts. Maybe these are shortcuts to quick pleasure. These moments of quick pleasure are compartmentalized in our minds and become our secret. We rationalize that we deserve this illicit pleasure given all we’ve been through.  

Some know what it is to feel lonely. To not have real friends. To feel as if no one knows or understands what we are going through. To complicate things, some may realize that they have not invested in their marriages in earlier years, and so are not that close to their spouses.

What might help in staying fresh:

Invest in lifelong learning. Read.  Listen to good podcasts.  Take a class.  Do something that will help you grow. Singer Sheryl Crow recently commented on the young artists who admire her. She speaks of the importance of remaining interested, curious, and fearless.

It does mean a lot to me,” she went on, “because I hope at the end of the day, particularly the young women that look up to me can see that if you just keep going, and you stay interested and curious and fearless about what you’re experiencing and writing, that you can be around 30 years.

Invest in praying the Psalms.  For a season, I read five Psalms aloud each morning and used them to help me pray. I underlined every word that described a name of God, a characteristic of God, or something God did. This practice greatly enriched my prayer life and overall faith.

Consider how Jesus seemed to walk away from ministry at times in order to pray. He seemed to find it necessary to be alone with God. Perhaps if we were to pay more attention to this discipline, we might rise above the superficially that seems to grip so many of us.

Richard Foster wrote in Celebration of Discipline:

Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people or gifted people but for deep people.

Invest in your own emotional health.   Deal with your emotions as Paul admonishes us, in Ephesians 4:3: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” When we don’t deal with our emotions, this neglect will be seen in a variety of ways:

  • We may become very demanding people.

  • We may quickly leave when there is conflict.

  • We may develop a pattern of manipulating others.

  • We may become quick-tempered, exploding at times.

  • We may live with the constant anxiety that we are going to lose the approval of others.

Invest in relationships.

  • Give time and energy to your family. It is smart to put your family time on the calendar as an appointment.

  • Surround yourself with a few people who add value to your life.  Who is it that adds energy, life, and vitality to your life?

  • Cultivate healthy relationships outside the church.  Too many of us live in isolation. We are friendless and sometimes feel like we have no one with whom we can really talk or confide. This is how some of us get into trouble. It is important to nurture healthy friendships and remove the isolation.

We need to learn to rely on God. This may feel “weak” and cause you to feel vulnerable and exposed. Yet, to acknowledge that you need God actually points to your strength (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

Would You Do This Tomorrow?

This was helpful! Austin Kleon refers to an article in which the author suggests an excellent question that one might ask before accepting an invitation: “Would I do this tomorrow?” At times, it is easy to say “yes” to an invitation that is six months away. However, if this invitation was for tomorrow, would I still say “yes?” (See also the article from Slate and from Medium.)

For many years, I filled my calendar with activities and meetings galore. Months ahead of time, I made various promises regarding speaking engagements, committee involvement, and being present at special events. Each promise, each time commitment, whether a year away or months away, would be entered into my calendar.

Often the week of the event would come and I would wonder, “What was I thinking, when I said yes to this request?”

  1. Sometimes I said “yes” so another would not be disappointed.

  2. Sometimes I said “yes” thinking that another would like me more.

  3. Sometimes I said “yes’ because having a calendar filled with numerous commitments made me feel worthwhile.

On the other hand, there may be some good reasons to say “yes.”

  1. Perhaps this will bless my spouse or my children.

  2. Perhaps this is a way to carry out God’s mission.

  3. Perhaps this is a way in which I can contribute and in some way serve another.

The idea is not to avoid saying “yes” to another’s request. Rather, it is to make an intentional commitment, keeping in mind costs and rewards. Perhaps one way to do this is to ask yourself, “If this were happening tomorrow, would I feel good about the commitment I am considering?”

Pay Attention to What Really Matters (Especially for Ministers and Other Church Leaders)

One of the great resources you and I have to offer any person or situation is our attention.

Yet, sometimes, we become distracted. We may have difficulty giving our full attention to what really matters and being fully present in the moment.  Many of us skim along the surface of most any experience, like a bass boat speeding down a river. We are in perpetual motion but our lives never get beyond the surface of the moment.

Consider what clamors for our attention:

  • A text appears on your phone.

  • You have a new e-mail message.

  • The phone rings.

  • You are invited to be a member of a committee.

  • Your child is invited to be on a team.

  • You see a new Tweet from someone who interests you.

  • Your friend updates her Facebook or Instagram status and you want to respond.

  • You watch television and are bombarded with advertisements.

Each day, somebody somewhere wants your attention.  If you are not intentional regarding the focus of your attention, you may rarely give your full attention to things that matter.

The following are some critical areas that are worthy of attention:

1.  Give attention to the creator God.  Be attentive to Scripture and what God reveals about his character and his expectations.  Be attentive to the story of God revealed in Scripture.

2.  Give attention to those who matter most.  Are you married?  Do you have children? Who are your closest friends?  Is there someone God has put into your life to encourage?  Consider who needs your full presence and undivided attention.  Are you investing in these people?  Or, are you passively waiting for them to take initiative toward you?

3.  Give attention to your own development.  Are you growing and developing personally, spiritually, or emotionally?  Are you growing and maturing in Christ?  Or, do you remain stuck in immaturity and old negative habits?

4.  Give attention to the maintenance of your life.  Are you practicing good self-care?  Are you feeding your soul so that you are nourished and strengthened on a regular basis? Are you taking care of your body?  Do you monitor your emotions?  Are you a good steward of the resources God has given you?

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Listening and Reading Resources

  1. I have been listening to the audio version of Bob Goff’s excellent book, Undistracted: Capture Your Purpose, Rediscover Your Joy. Down to earth and inspiring.

  2. Ray Ortlund and Sam Allberry have now published season two of their excellent podcast, You’re Not Crazy. This is a great podcast series.

  3. See the excellent interview with Carey Nieuwhof interviewing Glen Packiam.

Each Thursday/Friday, I post about ten tweets especially for ministers and other believers as they anticipate Sunday. You can find me @jimmartin.

I serve as Vice President of Harding School of Theology, Memphis, Tennessee. Every other Monday morning, I publish this “Encouragement Note.” You can subscribe at jimmartin.substack.com. You can also find me on Facebook - @jim.martin or Instagram - @jimmartin.jm. My e-mail address is: jmartin9669@gmail.com. Feel free to write. I would love to hear what is encouraging or helpful. — Jim Martin

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