6 Things that help me sleep at night in ministry

 

 

So I’ve told you what keeps me up at night in ministry, I figure I’ll tell you what helps me sleep as well. So here are 6 things that put my mind at ease in ministry. Enjoy!

man-sleeping-on-bed

(Picture credit to Alex Bramwell via Flickr)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. I’m just flat tired at night
Honestly, ministry is exhausting. There are nights when I’ll be snoozing on the couch at 8:30pm and my poor wife has to shake me awake so we can put the kids to bed. The best thing about being exhausted in this way, is that the reason I’m exhausted is because I’ve been getting to hang out with some awesome people. I would much rather be exhausted due to ministry activities than be exhausted because of corporate life activities, like when I worked for WalMart.

5. I know that what I’m doing can have an eternal impact on someone’s life
When I sit back and think about the lives I’ve seen because of a pastor, youth pastor, Sunday school teacher, educator, parent, etc., I am comforted knowing that by caring for students we can share the love of Jesus. In sharing the love of Jesus, students can have the chance to come to the saving knowledge of having a relationship with Jesus. I know that with that I have to remember that it’s not anything that I’m doing by myself, but that the Holy Spirit can move when I’m being obedient.

4. I know where my strength comes from, and He sustains me
Each night before my wife and I go to sleep, no matter how tired we are (and this has produced some really funny stories), we will pray together. Praying together helps us keep our focus on our heavenly Father, and helps us to remember that He sustains us no matter how tired we feel we are. If we remain in Him, He will remain in us and we take joy in knowing that fact.

3. I don’t fret about my employment status
As silly as it sounds, I was almost always up late at night worrying about my job when I worked for WalMart. The attendance standards in combination with living 45 miles away were incredibly stressful, especially when winter came about. Being employed by our church, I know that if I have a family situation come up I don’t have to worry about being fired for missing some time in the office.

2. Seeing the fruit of the Holy Spirit is amazing
Seeing kids come to give their lives over to Jesus never gets old. Knowing that students are grasping the Word and committing their lives to Christ is something that brings comfort. My job will never be finished in this area of ministry, but when you see these victories it’s hard not to find comfort in seeing new believers come to faith.

1. I know my future is secure
When I gave my life to Jesus as an 8-year-old squirrely kid, my eternity became assured to be with God in heaven. I know that no matter what happens after my eyes open during the day, that if my time has come I have hope and joy in Christ.

What are some things that help you sleep at night? These are just a few of mine, I’d love to hear yours!

6 things that keep me up at night in ministry…

I’ve had the privilege of working with middle school and high school students since mid-2009. There are so many different things that I get to experience that make me wonder why God saw fit to choose me for this particular calling, but I try to never complain about His decision to do so. That being said, among all the rewards for being in vocational ministry, there are still some things that keep me up at night and I figure I might as well share some of them with you. My prayer is that this is an encouragement where needed, and that maybe you’re in ministry too and you lose sleep on occasion because of some of the same things I do but felt like you were alone in that.

sleepless

6. Am I teaching these students in a way that they grasp the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
I know that when I study for a lesson I try my best to put what I learned from studying into words that will illuminate what it means to grasp the Gospel of Jesus. The hardest part for me to remember isthat nothing I can say will change a life if the Holy Spirit isn’t the inspiration for the words. I also have to remember that sometimes words just don’t have the capacity to describe what the Gospel is, and that’s tough for me. I’m a fixer and I hate when I can’t fix something.

5. Do I have the faith to quit trying to fix things and let the Holy Spirit work?
Sometimes I have to sit back and realize that I’m not the best at something. Although this point has been driven home many times in many different ways, the realization of it being true is difficult to accept. This is an issue that stems from my personal life as well. So many times I’ve tried to figure out how to fix a situation before praying and asking guidance from God. So many times when we look at Paul in scripture, he is seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit. Not only is he seeking guidance, but he is also encouraging and advising others to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 8:26 being one such instance)

4. Am I doing enough to encourage these students in their walk with Jesus?
In looking back at my youth, I see so many of my peers who have walked away from even thinking about attending church. I’ve seen several who felt called to ministry who gave up on that calling soon after surrendering to it. I don’t want the students I’m charged with teaching, mentoring and ministering to being the next wave of students who walk away to never look back. My desire is to see them be a difference for God’s kingdom in their generation. For that to happen though, I have to first be faithful to the calling I’ve been given. Secondly, I have to stop trying to coddle them and let them grow some legs and stand on them. I can’t make these students do what I think they ought to, I have to have faith they’ll follow the calling God has placed in their lives.

3. Am I setting the example of being a servant before being a leader?
This is the question that gets some of the most play in my head during the day and night. I see so many guys writing books on being the best leader, the most effective leader, the greatest leader. A good deal of these guys are writing about how to be the best CEO of their ministry. I was looking at a conference to go to that was geared specifically for youth pastors this fall, and every single speaker that was attending the conference was a CEO or something similar to that position in a wildly successful secular company. Now, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate those who are business-minded and organized and super driven, they keep the wheels turning. The problem I see with this is that too many ministers are worrying about being a CEO and not the janitor of the ministry. If we aren’t willing to serve those around us, can we be effective in ministry? I don’t want students to ever ask me if they’re getting paid to do work on mission projects. I say that in jest, but I’ve been asked that before and it really got me to thinking. We eventually had to cancel those projects because students didn’t want to participate if they weren’t being paid. The realization that I came to was that I wasn’t focusing enough on the characteristics of Jesus, who came to serve and not be served.My goal is to find ways to promote this mindset and encourage serving our fellow man/woman/boy/girl in an effort to walk as Jesus. Unfortunately, I don’t think having a CEO mindset is one of the ways we can do that because we are called to a relationship with Jesus and therefore we are called to a relationship with other followers of Jesus.

2. Am I ministering to my family at home as much as I am ministering to my family at church?
I have the opportunity to be the youth pastor at the church where I am currently employed. Along with that, I get the privilege of leading the musical portion of our worship services on Sunday mornings. This is an area where God is stretching me to my limits. Prior to being called to our current church, I was a volunteer as the youth pastor and filled in on occasion for my father-in-law on Sunday mornings when he was out of town or sick. My level of responsibility went up a few notches when we were called here, and I’m incredibly blessed to have this opportunity. Along with that though, I’m having to adjust how I manage myself around the time that I have during the day. One of the most difficult has been to make sure that I still spend time at home with my lovely bride and our 3 crazy awesome kids. I have found myself at times focusing more on what was going on at the church and in my office than what I had going on at home. I have to make intentional efforts to spend more time focusing on ministering to my own kids and wife than I have, and that can be tough for me because I am not a multi-tasker.

1. Am I practicing what I preach?
This is the thought that haunts me every night. Like everyone else, I sin. If I said I didn’t, I  would be called a liar. Am I being consistent with what I’m teaching my students? Am I loving everyone as Christ teaches us to? Are my words edifying and encouraging to everyone I talk to? Are my words indicative of my relationship with Jesus? Is my life a reflection of the one who took my sins and gave me a chance to spend eternity with God the Father? Unfortunately, I can’t always answer those questions with “yes.” The beauty of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins though, is that I have an advocate to speak for me when I repent of those sins. This doesn’t give me license to act like an idiot, but it does give me the chance for redemption upon repentance.

What are some things that keep you up at night?

Are We Losing?

I would like to think that I’m a winner because of the things I do.  I enjoy when I do well at participating in a sport, video game, board game, etc.  We are all born with an innate sense of winning at everything we try.  My wife and I are competitive people, just usually in different areas of life.  She possesses the motivation and ambition to be successful in business, and at the same time to be successful as a wife and mother.  There’s nothing wrong with desiring success, I am not saying that by any means.  However, when we associate winning with being right all the time, by making other people succumb to our “amazing” wealth of “knowledge” and forget that they are the same as we are, we begin to lose…gratuitously.   Let me explain what I mean.

As a believer in and follower of Christ, I prescribe to a certain set of beliefs outlined in scripture.  The most important of these beliefs is that I love the Lord my God with all of my heart, soul, and mind.  The second, which is similar, is to love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:37-40).  Most of the time, we have no problem claiming allegiance to God, and maintaining the first of these two commandments.  The second is where the wheels begin to fall off for most of us.  We love people and generally our actions reflect that.  But what happens when people fail us?  What happens when they don’t quite live up to the standard that we expect them to?  What happens when that failure involves us directly, and even more so when it is detrimental to our comfort or satisfaction?  Do we immediately overlook their “shortcomings?”  Is forgiveness given as quickly and freely to them, by us, as we would give ourselves?  Ponder that thought for a moment…no really, how often do we not forgive ourselves for falling short of expectations?  When it comes to holding ourselves accountable, we are the kings and queens of justification.  Suddenly, our sins become minor offenses, and we can quickly say a prayer and “repent,” and move along to the next duty in our day.  But, for shame, if someone doesn’t quite live up to the standard we expect them to.  Don’t get me wrong, when I’m saying these things, my ears are burning and my stomach is in knots thinking about how often I’ve failed to live out this command of forgiving.  I have forgone distributing forgiveness to those who honestly didn’t know they had offended me.  Even if they did know they had offended me, how long have I clung to that frustration and bitterness toward that person?  At the same time that I’ve clung to that mess, I’ve expected people to overlook my stupidity, inconsideration, and just outright disrespect.  As my friend Jack Robertson would say, “Uh, hello!”

Until the past couple of years, there was bitterness and anger that I held onto, toward people that I went to junior high and high school with.  That’s been 12 stinking years, for crying out loud!  When I looked back at why I was so angry and bitter, I began to realize the offenses were really petty and, well, junior highish.  My lack of being able to forgive these individuals clouded my ability to realize that they were, in fact, human.  How was I any different?  The exact same things that I had carried with me for so long, were things that I was guilty of doing to people myself!  I have seen some of these former classmates on Facebook, and through other avenues, and God has drastically changed their hearts and moved them to follow Him!  Praise God that He has changed their hearts!  Was I able to recognize this?  Um, no.  Why not?  Because I hadn’t let go of my anger and bitterness yet.  I wasn’t able to comprehend and rejoice with them in their salvation because I was still losing.  I was losing when my heart was embittered toward them because they had been a teenager, acting as some teenagers do.

Psalm 103:8-10 says:

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and full of faithful love.  He will not always accuse us or be angry with us forever.  He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses.” (HCSB)

Well dang, I feel like a jerk.  I am supposed to be setting the example of God’s standard for one of His followers, and I can’t even get over someone picking on me in junior high.  Pretty sure the persecution the disciples went through made my aggravation seem pretty minor.  Let’s take a look a little bit farther in this chapter, Psalm 103:11-14 says:

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His faithful love toward those who fear Him.  As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.  As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.  For He knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust.” (HCSB)

Basically, what I take from this passage, is that when I don’t forgive as my Father in heaven has forgiven me, I am losing.  Not only am I losing, but I am failing.  The absolute beauty in this though, is that He has taken our transgressions completely away when we give our lives to Him.  Now, we have the opportunity to do the same to those who have sinned against us.  Am I saying that we need to search every single person out who has offended us and inform them of the “great grace” we’ve performed for them?  No.  We are never taught to go make a point of telling someone we have forgiven them, it is completely an issue of our heart being obedient to our Father.  We are commanded to forgive them.  We are also called to forget.  You’ve heard  the phrase before, “I’ll forgive them, but I’ll never forget what they did to me.”  This is an attitude that the world has birthed that has none of the characteristics of Christ.  He took all of our sins, forgave them, and took them away forever.  When we give our lives to Him, that sin is g-o-n-e.

They say that elephants are very smart creatures that never forget.  I don’t want God to be an elephant when it comes to my sin.  Fortunately, because I have that eternal salvation through His son’s death on the cross, He’s not an elephant.  He has forgotten my sins and taken them away as far as the east is from the west.  Spend a minute thinking about that analogy for a second.  The east never catches up to the west, just as our sin will never be brought up again when we have repented from that sin.  Because of the example of God’s forgiveness, we can choose to win when we forgive others.

In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus says,

“For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” (HCSB)

We don’t get to tell someone to apologize for their actions (unless it’s your child), but we get to choose to act as Christ and forgive them for it.  As Mike Donehey of Tenth Avenue North explains in the video below, we can choose whether or not we want to be winning or losing.  I have to make a daily and conscious decision to grant forgiveness to those who I feel have wronged me, even more so when they may not have realized they did so.  Don’t be an elephant.

No More Conforming, Be Authentic

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Him (Christ) with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelivable.”  –Brennan Manning

Everytime I hear that quote, I shudder.  The thought that Christians, such as myself could be the greatest cause of atheism just breaks my heart.  That means that science, natural disasters, tragedy and other things we think cause people to turn from God are but a glimmer compared to the effect we have as Christians.  That’s not to say that people’s lives aren’t being changed and saved by the Holy Spirit as a result of us sharing with them and setting a Godly example, but there are many instances where we cause people to wander away from faith or just not consider faith at all.  When I sit back and think about how a statement like this could have an validity, I am brought to Romans 12:1-2, which says

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve of what God’s will is-His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

We are called to live a life of excellence, and the pattern we are called to follow is the one set for us by Christ, not the one(s) that our culture and society tell us we should follow.  Sometimes we fall into the thought that we have to fit into a certain mold to be a “real” or “good” Christian.  The world has created that thought, and we end up believing it if we aren’t careful.  Some of these molds are:

  • We have to go to church every Sunday
  • We have to wear the right clothes
  • We have to say the right words
  • We have to smile the whole time
  • We have to act like nothing is wrong

When I delivered this sermon, I came to church and made sure to do something that I don’t normally do.  That was to be dressed in a suit with a tie and slacks, keep in mind, my normal Sunday morning attire is jeans and either a polo shirt, or a button-up shirt, so you can imagine the comments that ensued.  Many compliments about my dress, and of course, several questions about a funeral.  Here is a picture of my pre-sermon getup.

I will admit, it was quite nice getting the compliments from my fellow church members.  I actually fit into the mold that our churches have expected the preacherman to be wearing up in the pulpit, as opposed to how I wanted to dress, which was in my blue jeans and polo.  Now, there is nothing wrong with dressing up nicely, especially to bring the Word of God, so please don’t take me as meaning that you should never dress up nice, I think it’s a matter of preference personally.  But I dressed up this way to be the visual aid part of my sermon, more on that a bit later.

Back to before…we weren’t created to fit into some kind of mold in order to be a Christian, but the world sure does want us to fit a mold.  So, we feel like we have to fit into it, but what were we created for?

We were created for worship, more specifically, we were created to worship God.  We were also created for fellowship, to share the love of Christ with those around us all the time, not just occasionally on Sundays.  In the passage prior to Romans 12:1-2, we are given a look into what Paul was writing to the Roman church about.  I will give you a quick Philliphrase version of that passage.

  • God is all-knowing!
  • God is beyond our comprehension!
  • None of us know His thoughts!
  • He doesn’t owe us anything!
  • He created all, He gives all, and we owe Him all of our love, passion and commitment!

How does this fit into our lives?  Knowing what the passage says about God, we are urged to give Him everything.  Our lives are to be spent, presented, offered, and freely given completely to God for His use and glory.  By doing this, we are living a lifestyle of worship.  In this passage in Romans, the end goal is to know the good, pleasing and perfect will of God.  In order to do this, we have to do a few things.

First of all, we have to have that relationship with the Father.  Meaning, we have to acknowledge we are sinners and that Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave as a sacrifice for those sins.  After that, and let’s work backwards from what our end goal is, and examine what Paul described we have to do.

We need to experience a renewal of mind.  What does renewal mean?  Well, according to Google, to renew means:

  1. Resume (an activity) after an interruption
  2. Reestablish (a relationship)

Why do we need a renewal of our minds?  Just like we need a vacation sometimes to refresh our bodies and restart, our minds need a renewal from the old thoughts and focus we have before we experience Christ.  We can’t earn our way to Heaven, but our thought process before we know Christ is that the nicer we are to people or the more money we give to charitable causes.  This mindset is contrary to what scripture teaches, more specifically what Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us.  In a time where our culture feels as though not believing in God and believing in science means we are living in an age of reason, a renewal of mind sometimes seems unfathomable because of the social repercussions.  When the Holy Spirit beckons us, and we respond, our minds become renewed by faith.  By trying to figure out God with worldly reason, we completely avoid the aspect of the faith we are saved by, and called to live by.  When we try to live without faith, we begin to conform to the world around us.  Instead of conforming, we are to be transformed.  Which brings us to our next topic, transformation.

According to Google, to transform means-

  1. Make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.

When Paul writes the word transformed, he is referring to how our lives are to be changed to be completely different than before.  In order to do this, we have to fight the innate and selfish nature we are born with, and instead rely on the renewal of mind that we have upon receiving salvation.  The transformation comes when we recognize who God is, and give up all of the control we desire to have over our lives.  When we make the thorough and dramatic change in the form, appearance and character of our heart and soul, we have transformed from being selfish and ungrateful.  When that change comes, our new attributes are appreciative and redeemed.  Think about what Optimus Prime looked like before he would transform into a superhero robot.  Before we can call ourselves transformed, we have to look and live differently than we did before salvation comes.  This transformation is made possible only because God loves us, and He has given us the opportunity to be renewed and transformed.  In order for us to be transformed and renewed, we cannot conform any longer to what the world says is acceptable.

In order to know how not to conform, we should first understand what the word conform means.

  1. Comply with rules, standards, or laws.
  2. (of a person) Behave according to socially acceptable conventions or standards: “the pressure to conform”

When we are living and striving not to conform, we strive to live against how the world lives.  This can be anything from what we watch on TV, what we listen to on the radio, how we speak, treat others, and the list goes on and on.  Sometimes when we are striving the live a life that isn’t conformed, the world labels and categorizes Christians in ways that are sometimes fair, sometimes not.  Some of these categories are that we are all judgmental, we are all fake, or we are all hypocrites.  When we get put into one of these categories, we have a choice in the way we respond.  We can either be completely offended and fight back in a way that doesn’t represent Christ, or we can do as I’ve had to learn the hard way to do, and sit back and examine how I am perceived and why.  Some questions I have found useful are:

  • Do I exemplify Christ by the way I treat people?
  • Does my attitude reflect the love of Christ, or does it tear people down?
  • Do I act one way at church on Sunday and Wednesday, and when I’m not at church, do I act a different way?
  • Do I worry about the speck of sawdust more than I worry about my plank?

In the sermon on the mount, Christ taught the attitudes we ought to have to live a life that exudes that we are his followers.  Meekness, gentleness, compassion, mercifulness, peacemaking, and righteousness are all some of those characteristics.  Do we live these everyday?  Or do we just act like we have it all together and continue on with our lives, unchanged?  When we act like we have it all together, we have a tendency to put on a front, or a cover that looks great.  Underneath it, we can be so tumultuous, confused, and disgruntled we can lose our focus on Christ.  When this happens, we keep the front up and begin to conform to what is expected of us, and we forget what the transformation and renewal of mind felt like when we experienced Christ.  This can lead to the pressures of our society taking over, and we begin to marginalize things that would never have been an issue before, and our life becomes an unauthentic mess.  God knows what’s beneath that cover, He sees the mess that is covered by that shell of smiles.  We can’t hide our ragged insides from God, and it won’t be long before other people start noticing something is wrong with us, and then we hide.  Are we transparent, or are we hiding behind something fake?

When I got all the compliments yesterday morning about my suit, it drove home the point to me that even though I was dressed nice and looked very confident, I was still scared to death about preaching.  But, the best part about the suit was that it was just a facade.  My intention with wearing the suit was to cover up what was underneath.

Now, I know I’m cheesing in this picture, that was mostly because I had the intention of sending this picture to my mom to get a reaction from her.  The suit jacket covered up my cut up, sleeveless shirt and tattoo that became exposed when I took my jacket off.  How many times do we cover up our mess with something fake so people won’t think badly of us?  When we do this, we tend to act in ways that we wouldn’t if we were being authentic.  When we have turmoil in our lives, we have to look to Christ for that comfort and for that guidance through the murk and hopelessness that can come up when we are fighting spiritual warfare.  My encouragement to you and to myself, is to shed the desire to throw up that front and try to do everything on our own, and instead come to our family of believers for support and give everything to God.  I’ll leave you with this passage as an encouragement and reminder about what we’re supposed to be when we give it all to Christ.

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”            2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Put All Your Eggs In!!

 

In September, I quit my job after almost 7 years of employment.  I had great benefits, pretty decent pay, and tons of opportunity to share the gospel of Christ with co-workers.  I also have 3 kids, a mortgage, at the time we had 2 car payments and the everyday costs associated with being a family man with a home and two vehicles.  So why did I quit working somewhere so stable and consistent?  God told me to.

It tends to sound either so cliché, or so crazy to people sometimes when I tell them that God told me to quit my job.  But it’s completely and honestly the truth!  My wife and I had been praying for between 6-9 months about what direction God was leading us in ministry, and the answer came through an unforeseeable avenue.  You see, my wife is an amazingly talented photographer, and has been building our business for the past 4 years.  She has done this, all while caring for myself and our 3 kiddos, and keeping our house from caving in on top of itself.  God has blessed her with a talent that many go to college to hone.  He also gave her an incredible mind for business and absorbing knowledge that just overwhelms me.  So after months of prayer, and seeking what we were supposed to do, God told me to quit my job and join my wife at home to run our business as a team.  Along with running the business, we felt very lead to begin home schooling our children.  Wowsers!

How do I know He told me to quit?  Here’s the really cool part of the entire deal.  When we seek His desires over our own, He will bless us beyond measure.  Where does this come from?

Trust in the Lord and do what is good; dwell in the land and live securely.

Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.”

                                -Psalm 37:3-4 (HCSB)

In the past 7 years of marriage, my wife and I have been through many different trials.  Some have been financial, some have been emotional, some have dealt with past sins, some have dealt with sins that carried in from the past, and some have dealt with preferences as fickle as which way to hang the clothes in the closet.  The times that we have been caught not seeking to honor Christ with our marriage have resulted in some of the most chaotic seasons in our lives.  The times that we have sought to honor Him through all of our being, first individually and second, as a couple, He has blessed us beyond measure.  The decision for me to quit my job wasn’t an easy one to come to, but because I had been disobedient before and knew what the outcome was going to be, I decided to follow where He was leading us.  Our heart’s desires during the chaotic times, were for our selfish desires to be fulfilled.  When we were seeking Him, our heart’s desires were those that He gave us.  In order for us to know what His desire for us was, we had to follow what the next verses in that passage in Psalm say:

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act,

 making your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like the noonday.”

                                                -Psalm 37:5-6  (HCSB)

You see, we can’t expect to fulfill God’s calling in our lives if we’re not seeking what He has for us to seek.  If we are chasing the “American Dream” of making a ton of money and living to glorify ourselves and give ourselves credit, we honestly cannot expect God to bless that!  I’ve been volunteering as the youth pastor at the church we attend for the past almost 3 years, and I love it!  However, I haven’t felt as though I’ve been serving in the capacity I’m called to because I was seeking to “make enough money” to sustain our household.  God made clear through the ever increasing antsyness of myself at my job, as well as the increasing busyness of our photography business, that I needed to leave my job.  As a result of taking that step, I have been able to focus more on that ministry at the church, and I have been able to focus on teaching and loving on our students more.  Along with that, there is time I have gained by being home with my kids and wife, and have had the absolute privilege of getting to know them so much more!  God’s blessings have been spiritual, emotional, physical, and yes, financial, and have been all but limitless!

Now, some of you may be asking “So basically I need to quit working at my job and God will make me rich?”  NO!!!  I’m not saying that at all!!  First of all, we aren’t rich, far from it.  We are, however, being blessed with His provision that all of our needs are being met and we are working toward becoming debt free.  God may be calling you to take the step of faith He called us to take, and He may be asking you to sacrifice something smaller in your life so that you will follow Him closer, and make your desires the ones that are His instead.

First of all, we must commit our ways to Him, never forsaking His grace and mercy on us, and understanding that He will never give us a scorpion instead of an egg (Luke 11:12).  Secondly, we have to rely fully on His providence and put all of our eggs in the basket of faith that He will provide!  If we put some eggs in the basket of faith, and put some others aside “in the off chance” that things don’t pan out as we hope, can we really say that we are following Him fully?  So to answer the question about what I’ve learned from being self-employed, I’ve learned that I can’t even begin to depend on my own ingenuity, provision, or most-especially, my own wisdom.  Everything must come from God.  I have to rely fully on Him, not putting some faith forward and saving some hope for just in case.  So basically, quit being selfish and faithless, and put all your eggs in God’s basket!

Big Changes, New Direction, and a Huge Step of Faith

Over the past 6 1/2 years, I have been employed by Wal-Mart Distribution Center #6064.  It has been a very steady and consistent job, and has provided my wife and I with many benefits that we are very grateful for having.  About 5 years ago, my wife, Stephania, decided she wanted to start exploring the field of professional photography.  My first thought was, “Is this going to be like the tutu’s and the other little entrepreneurial ideas that haven’t fared so well?”  She had tried a couple of different avenues of self-employment that ended up not being so sustainable, but her persistence was unending.  One of the things I admire most about my wife, is her ambition and relentless pursuit to succeed.  I told her that I would support her in this new direction if it looked like it was going to be something that was going to be sustainable.  So, she did some research and found her first DSLR, and so began the adventure.

The first camera body we started out with was an Olympus E-410, which was actually a pretty decent little camera.  We started there, mainly because it was what we could purchase that had the most for the money.  It ended up being a very good, entry level DSLR, and Steph used it for the first year or two she was starting out.  The unfortunate thing about the Olympus, was that the peripherals were limited or more expensive than their Nikon and Canon counterparts.  So we made the decision to take a risk, and sell the Olympus and purchase a used Nikon D70 from our good friends at Jonathan Ivy Photography.  From that point on, Steph was able to start expanding her capabilities as a photographer, and honing her skills and own personal style.  At that point, I started realizing that this could really end up being a big deal.  She started booking weddings, and needed an assistant.  Obviously, I was the clear choice to be that person, mainly because I was cheap/free labor.  So, I decided I needed to learn some of the craft.  Shooting with the setting on the camera on “A” wasn’t an option, so I was quickly educated on how to shoot on the setting “M.”  I still lack some of the skills in this to even be considered an expert or a professional, but I did grasp enough to be a functional part of what had become Stephania Whitfield Photography.  

In the next year or two, the bookings went from being wedding based (bridal, engagement, etc.), to being family and newborn photography.  After another year, high school seniors started becoming another market that we were entering into as a business.  During this time of the growth of the business, I was still working for Wal-Mart, and Steph was having to schedule according to my work schedule.  This meant that her shooting days were limited to Saturday and Monday mornings and evenings, and occasional weeknights.  As her workload increased, I really felt like the Lord may have been preparing us for something bigger than we had even imagined.  As we grew more involved in the ministry of our church here in Walnut Springs, my job with Wal-Mart made things more and more difficult to plan and organize shoots as well as ministry activities.  The problem we were running into, was my schedule time of clocking in at 4:30am Tuesdays through Fridays, and not getting off at a consistent time. That schedule let to some serious exhaustion and organizational issues for our ministry involvement.

About 4 or 5 months ago, we really felt the Lord leading us to pray about what direction He wanted us to go with regards to my job and the business.  We have always felt that we were called to be ministry first as a couple and individually.  As we were seeking the Lord’s will, I really felt that He placed on my heart that I needed to leave my stable, consistent, and beneficial job and become employed by my wife…scary huh?  As the head of the household, I’ve been the breadwinner for the last several years, and my natural need as a husband is to feel as though I am providing for my family.  One of the big questions that my dear friend and former youth pastor asked us during our premarital counseling was if I would be okay with not being the breadwinner in our family.  I literally didn’t know how to answer his question, as I had never thought about that being a possibility.  I now know the answer  to that question, and it is a resounding YES!  It still goes against my natural instinct to be that provider, but I’m called to provide for my wife and family in more than just a financial way.  I am still learning and growing in that area as well, but who isn’t?  As the business has grown, it has grown to the point that we can almost count on a certain amount of income from it each month, and that much is sustainable for us as a family to function, and more importantly survive.  Now, most people ask me “Why don’t you just keep working at Wal-Mart and schedule more time off?” or “Why don’t you just keep on working and make a ton of money and buy some cooler stuff?” My answer to them is this, “I am called to full-time ministry, and I miss my wife and kids.”  In the town we serve in, even a volunteer ministry position is a full-time position.  The youth in this town are fighting an uphill battle everyday searching for fulfillment and satisfaction that the world is just not giving them.  They need Christ, and the youth pastor job at our church is a heavenly-reward-paid-full-time position.  I consider it to be more important than my hourly and benefit paying job, and the Lord had put on my heart that something drastic needed to happen.  This call, on top of us homeschooling the kids, was where the Lord opened my eyes to what needed to happen.

So, as of September 7th, 2012 I will be ending my employment with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and beginning my employment with Stephania Whitfield Photography.  I am extremely excited, for many reasons.  The main is that I will be getting to work from home, and that means tons of time with my amazing wife and crazy, beautiful kids.  I’ll be getting to be a part of our financial income more directly, as well as being home during the education of my kids.  The opportunities to minister more freely and fully will be an amazing change from the past 3 years I’ve worked with our youth at the church.  Attending sporting events and other functions, as well as hosting functions will become less hectically thrown together.  The ability to do more discipleship and community outreach is something that I’ve needed to be able to do.  Getting up at 2:45am during the week for work leaves one very tired and feeble at the end of the day, and I will not miss that. At all.  Please be in prayer for our family as these changes are becoming reality, and for our faith in Him to provide as He has already done for so many years.

Guest blogger

Hey guys, recently I was approached by a friend and fellow minister in the faith about blogging and posting on each other’s blog. I thought it sounded like an awesome idea, and so tomorrow morning, there will be a guest blogger on behindthecross! I am really excited to see what the Lord is going to say through my good friend, Chad Nelson. Check out the blog tomorrow to see!