Redefine Your Focus
It’s the beginning of a new year, a time we often ask our congregations to move toward a more profound commitment to Jesus and the way of holiness, to re-engage with purposeful direction in their spiritual lives. But what about ourselves? How might we challenge ourselves as pastors and leaders to simplify, refocus, and hone in on the specific places where God wants our attention? Flipping the typical script, I challenge you to utilize the next few minutes—not in information gathering nor mindless scrolling—but to ask the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you through purposeful reflection. It is not my words, nor the words of yet another author, that will initiate change and forward movement in you. The kind of direction and renewal we all need comes through dedicated time with the Holy Spirit, the One who truly shifts and transforms. Ask, consider, pray, and record your conversation. The following five questions will help redefine your spiritual aim.
Lord Jesus, help us cling to being single-minded and whole-hearted. May we pray in earnest with the psalmist David, “One thing I ask and I will seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Ps 27:4).
- Something you’d like to study personally?
When was the last time you studied something alongside the Holy Spirit just for you—with no intention to teach what you learned? What would it look like to head back into the awe and wonder of pure discovery and delight with your heavenly Father, simply for the sake of relationship and pleasure? What topics spark curiosity in your spirit? What do you sense God asking you to ask Him about?
- A new spiritual discipline to try?
Are there any spiritual disciplines with which you’ve never experimented? Is there one you’ve always wished to make time for and haven’t? Is the Spirit asking you to try something new or different? Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. For example, God asked me two years ago to start baking sourdough bread. It seemed strange then, but it made time in my schedule for particular lessons He wanted to teach me.
How may I…
- Receive appropriate support?
Recent data from Barna states that 65% of pastors harbor feelings of isolation and loneliness. If support is an issue, consider the following questions: Is counseling appropriate this year, or perhaps working with a spiritual director? Do you have a group of people you believe to be “your people” who are safe, loving, and sympathetic toward you? If not, how might you begin developing such a group around you?
- Practice being led?
When was the last time you stepped off the stage and entered the congregation—not to watch and prepare for feedback, critique, or teach your team—but to be led in worship? Where might you find opportunities to be a congregant again? Places you might practice: online services from another church, non-traditionally timed worship services available in your city, private times when your team is encouraged to lead you, or in total privacy, letting the Lord himself take you to new and undiscovered places.
Where do I…
- Listen to God best?
Celtic Christians used the term “thin places” to describe spaces where heaven and earth seem to collide. When we encounter such places, we must take note—and return as often as possible! Is there a particular place you go where you can almost guarantee you’ll encounter God? How often do you go there? What postures do you take to position yourself to listen rather than speak?
For supplementary resources on the spiritual practice of examen, to inspire yourself toward further focus, or to hone in on one specific topic above, consider the following:
Busby, Joel. (Jan 27, 2023). “3 Gifts of a Thin Place: The Locations That Mark Where We Met with God.” The Gospel Coalition online: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/gifts-thin-place/.
Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. (2015). Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. Westmont: IVP Books.
Ellman, Lacy Clark. (2023). “Thin Places, Holy Spaces: Where Do You Encounter God?” A Sacred Journey online: https://www.asacredjourney.net/thin-places/.
Martin, Ronnie. (Aug 4, 2023). “Pastors, Seek Out Trustworthy Ministry Friends.” The Gospel Coalition online: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/seek-ministry-friends/.
Mitchell, Paul. (2022). The Examen Book: Exploring Every Day with God. Chicago: Loyola Press.
Soares, Joseph. (Jul 13, 2023). “Good Leadership Is About Understanding That Sometimes You Lead and Sometimes You Are Led.” Newsweek online: https://www.newsweek.com/good-leadership-about-understanding-that-sometimes-you-lead-sometimes-you-are-led-1812547.
“Spiritual Disciplines: A Practical Strategy.” (2023). Renovaré online: https://renovare.org/about/ideas/spiritual-disciplines.
“The Daily Examen.” IgnationSpirituality.org: https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen/.
“The Ignatian Examen.” Jesuits online: https://www.jesuits.org/spirituality/the-ignatian-examen/.
Rev. Bethany Tippin currently serves as a hospice chaplain in north-central Wyoming and has just planted a virtual, app-based church. Find out more at www.storytellerscollective.org.
Executive Director: Johanna Rugh
Curator: Carla Working