Try Doing Less for God This Year

An elderly person once told me that “life is like a roll of toilet paper—the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.” It doesn’t quite flow like the words of Scripture, but its truth rings loudly as I enter my 52nd year of life. Life really is short.

In my 20s, I was a young husband, dad and pastor, full of zeal and energy. I truly believed I was going to change the world, or at least my little corner of it. I was serving in a lively and growing church, loved people and loved being a pastor. Fresh out of Bible college, I set out to impact everyone within my sphere of influence.

Fast forward 12 years and I found myself tired, tainted and ticked. People weren’t doing what I “exhorted” them to do. I was exhausting myself trying to fix unhappy people. I’d meet with them in their pain, pray with them, and share Scripture—hoping to steer them into a thriving “abundant life.” They would seem so encouraged when we met. I would give wonderful advice (or so I thought), keen insight into God’s Word and pray fervently for them. Most went away with a smile of hope. Yet, within weeks they would be back needing more, as if my ministry in their life “didn’t take.” Worse yet, some left and never came to church again.

This pattern repeated itself over and over. Someone in pain needed to meet with the Pastor NOW, and I would pull out all of the stops to help. Often, the stops meant leaving my kids and telling my wife that we would have that “date” night tomorrow.

I remember the turning point for me. I was having dinner with my family and I was in my usual rush to eat and run. This night was a huge outreach event at our church. I was “the man.” I was going to lead a bunch of incredibly fun activities, move the crowd into engaging worship, then deliver a message that was sure to lead the hardest heart to the foot of the cross. We had spent months preparing for this night. I was nervous and excited.

Then my wife made a simple comment that brought me to my knees. “You’ve been out for 21 nights in a row.” It hit me like a two by four. I had been “out.” I thought I was “saving the world,” but looking back, I don’t think the people I was trying to reach saw it quite the way I did. They loved my attention. They loved that I would drop everything to run to their aid. As it turned out, I was the one who was losing. My wife could see it, and my kids wondered where Dad was all the time.

In that moment, I chose to stay home and an incredible thing happened. As it turned out, I wasn’t as much of “the man” as I thought. The night went along quite well—without me. In that moment, and many months following that, I realized what was happening. I was trying to do the work of God Neil’s way and thinking it was God’s way. Under the surface was the stinging presence of my pride. I needed to be needed. I liked that people liked me. I was spending less and less time alone with God and more and more time being busy for Him. I thought it was the right thing to do.

Little did I know, God was fine allowing me to come to that place of exhaustion, feel the sting of letting people down, and sensing a tension with my family that I couldn’t fix. God was allowing me to come to my own place of pain that would eventually bring me to my knees. I knew something had to change.

That painful and amazing night, my wife and I decided to move to a new ministry. I never wanted to leave that quaint little town. I believe the church needed me and wondered how they would fare when I left. Looking back, that little church is doing just fine. In fact, it’s thriving.

God brought me to a place of brokenness—a place where I finally gave up working for Him and began to REST in Him. I began to surround myself with mature, godly people who would pour into my life. They wouldn’t “fix” my problems. They would simply sit with me in my pain and point me to Christ. It dawned on me that that’s being like Jesus. It’s what a pastor does. It’s what Jesus would do. He never promised to deliver us from pain. He did promise to be with us in it. That’s why the author of the book of James could say, “consider it joy when you face trials.” He could say it because he knew trials would tire us out and bring us to that place of desperately seeking God—that place of true surrender.

These days, I feel a lot less pressure in my life and ministry. I love what I do more than ever. I love people more than I ever have. Maybe I’m beginning to understand that God doesn’t NEED me, but He chooses to use me. He does that by filling me with His Spirit and pouring Himself out through me. Really, the only “work” I have is to stay close to Him. After all, it was always His work to begin with.

Looking back, I see how my Messiah complex was putting Band-Aids on the lives of people in whom God was doing a surgery. I was getting in the way. I realize now that God was patient with that and never once lost control of His perfect plan, carefully orchestrated in the lives of all.

These days are still full, but not frantic. I still get tired at the end of the day, but it’s a good tired. I realize I can actually do more by doing less. This past year I made some decisions to create more room for God in my life. In this space, I’m encountering a living God who loves me and wants to relate to me in that perfect love. I’m beginning to see God move in the lives of people, rather than “me” move in their lives. I’m learning to be okay when people don’t seem to “get it,” because God knows that and will continue to do the work in their hearts.

As we enter this new year, maybe you can find the rest I’m enjoying. Here are a few of the course corrections I’ve made to see God, hear God, and experience the richness of authentic community with Him:

  1. Every seven weeks, I take a “Sabbath” Day—a day to STOP and cease from doing stuff. This isn’t my normal day off, but a work day that I block out on my calendar. You may be surprised that the world, your job, and your ministry can actually survive a day without you. What I do on that day varies, but generally, I try to get away from the busyness. This may mean a hike, a drive or simply picking up a great book and resting.
  2. Every day, I create space to be still. It may only be a 30-minute block, but it’s a moment to stop, catch my breath, re-focus and get back into the day. In that time, I remind myself that God is in every moment of my day and working His perfect plan through whatever comes my way.
  3. I have prioritized relationships in my life. I sought out a mentor and meet with him twice a week. This is not a Bible study or an accountability group. It’s simply a friend who walks with me and continues to lift my eyes to Jesus.
  4. I increased my exercise. This is relative to everyone. More exercise for you may mean simply getting up off the couch and walking around the block. Along with this, I’m striving to eat and sleep better.

When a New Year would come around, I used to say things like, “I need to pray and read my Bible more.” Within days I was feeling guilty and frustrated. As I’ve created space to meet God, I have found a growing hunger to open my Bible. Not to fill my head with more theology, but to understand the One who loves me and wants to be “with” me in every moment. I find myself praying almost constantly, like talking to a friend.

Rather than creating a list of more things to do this year, how about doing more by doing less, and making a commitment to encounter the One who has been right beside you all this time anyway.