You've heard of being stuck in a rut... how about stuck in a gear?
The other day, Carol and I were in a rental car that had the option of either automatic or manual transmission. Oh course, I chose manual. I love it! Just pop that gear handle when you're ready, and it changes gears at your command. Oh, the feel of power when you're in control (seems to be mostly a man thing about cars). Then Carol woke me up out of my dreamland with, "You're acting like a teenager!" The car was in second gear and the RPMs were running as high as they could in that gear.
I was feeling the rush of a race car driver pulling into the lead at the Daytona 500. However, what we all know is: You can't stay in the same gear forever. You’re not actually going that fast, and the noise level of your ride is annoying. Eventually, without a shift, your engine will burn out.
Welcome to my world about a year ago. Maybe you can relate.
I love what I do. I love the ministry - pastoring a church, that is. I love the challenge of being ready to teach and preach God's Word without excuse, whether I feel like it or not. I even love all of the demands that come with wearing so many hats. They make my to-do-list longer than humanly possible to complete, but I enjoy the ride. It's exhilarating and power-filled. However, for the past couple of years although my RPMs have been revving high and making a lot of noise, they haven’t really been getting me where I need to go any faster or more effectively.
After a very intense few months, I found myself on the edge of burnout, not just from a phase of busyness, but from running so hard in the same gear and not making headway in reaching my destination. How could I have gone so long in the same gear and not realized that the annoying noise was coming from my almost-burned-out engine in need of a shift?
I needed to shift gears, but I was not paying attention to the sound of the engine. The key to changing gears is to learn to hear that sound. As the RPMs get louder, you know you are entering a phase where you should shift to the next gear, before everything begins to fall apart.
But God, faithful to break through the toughness of my narrow determined mindset, at the end of last summer, convinced me to push in the clutch. (That's what we used to do with manual shifts before all of this newfangled technology). In other words, I put things on "pause" and began to listen to Him in the quietness of prayer and meditation. Then, in a moment of clarity, I heard something that I least expected.
"It's time to turn these wheels over to the next driver." Well, that's not exactly what He said, but that's one way of explaining it. The work I had done to plant Life Church ten years ago and make it a solid and healthy spiritual family was at its end. It was time to pass the baton to the next generation. I was now spinning my wheels trying to do something that was intended for the next driver to accomplish.
So I picked up the phone and called the man who had always been on my mind as the possible "next lead pastor" of Life Church. Peter Jankowski, who was serving on staff at a church in Ohio, was in shock at my inquiry. And when he called me back after fasting and praying with his wife, so was I… God had spoken to them and they were open to the idea.
I kid you not, it actually happened this way: I hung up the phone, sat back in my office chair on that quiet evening and said, "Lord, now what am I going to do with my life?" Immediately I heard His voice say softly, "What is in your heart to do?" I had not thought about this in the context of life goals in a long time. I was simply plowing forward where I was, as hard as I could.
In the moment, I did not know the answer. Yet within 10-15 seconds, my mind and spirit shifted with an "aha!" realization. I knew exactly what was in my heart. Two months before I had returned from my fourth trip in five years to the other side of the world on missions adventures. While there I had preached and taught for 38 hours in 19 days – but I was not the least bit burned out from that challenge. Every time I return from engaging in "global missions," I can hardly be contained. People around me want to put me in a straight jacket and throw me in a padded cell. I come back ready to change the world... All of it!
What was in my heart? That was in my heart. But it had not occurred to me once before that moment to shift from what I was doing to accomplish that desire.
Now God was giving me permission to think about it and pursue it. The next day, I wrote an email to the leader of the mission that I was connected with and asked a simple question. "If I were to raise my own support, like a missionary, how could I serve the ministry that you lead?" That email changed the course of my life.
Today, I am (along with my family and church) in a one-year transition to pass the baton of leadership of Life Church to Peter Jankowski and drive toward my destiny of helping fulfill the Great Commission: The mission of God to reach every person on the planet with a life-giving witness of Christ and His kingdom.
I am now wearing two hats... 1) Working with the new co-pastor to take the lead role within the next 12 months, and 2) Receiving the title of "Director of Church Mobilization for Global Impact" from the missions group I’m also now serving. I am beginning to help churches across America roll up their sleeves and connect with the global church in fulfilling the Great Commission.
I am shifting gears.
I cannot tell you what this has done to the health of my personal engine. The roar has subsided. The movement is quicker. And the engine is no longer in danger of burnout. I have not lessened my work load. In fact - I have increased it. I am working two jobs at once. Responsibilities have doubled. But the ride is smoother than it has been in several years. How do you explain that? It's simple: I shifted gears.
Where are you in your journey? Are you in need of a gear shift? I'm not telling you to quit your job or change anything overnight. I am, however, challenging you to hear God's voice. He knows better than you where you are and where you need to be. Maybe you need to change the way you approach your job, your marriage, or your finances. Maybe you need to add a ministry involvement to your life. It's not just about going on vacation or taking some time off. It is about the still small voice, the clarity of hearing the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Whatever you do, don't stay where you are in your process of growth and fulfillment. That is where your engine will eventually burn out.
Jesus, early in His ministry, had achieved complete success in the city of Capernaum. The entire city was coming to him, seeking His help, wanting His leadership. But Jesus departed to a "solitary place" and prayed. When the disciples found Him, they said, "Everyone is looking for you." Jesus was winning the whole city. What a great church that would have been! But after hearing the still small voice of the Father, Jesus said to His disciples, "Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth."
Jesus shifted gears. So have I. So can you.
Don't just be the thrill-seeking kid behind the wheel. Listen to the sound of His voice. Shift gears, and get on with your destiny. Let's change the world together!