A few months ago, I reached what felt like a stress level breaking point. My main stressors were what Jim Berg refers to in his “Quieting a Noisy Soul” seminar as “positions and possessions”—responsibilities at work and at home.
While I was digging up my irrigation system one Friday (Friday is my day off), I thought to myself, “Something has to change. After all, Paul told people to follow him the way he followed Christ (1 Cor 11:1; Philip 3:17). But I would not wish my current mode of operation on anyone right now! This cannot be how God intends me to live.”
My first step was not very spiritual. I downloaded an audiobook on minimalism. Previously, I had been aware of minimalism but had pushed it away, partly because it seemed faddish to me and partly because I didn’t see the need. Well, now I saw the need. I tried to download Marie Kondo’s book, but it was unavailable at my library; so I downloaded The Minimalist Home, by Joshua Becker instead.1 I’m so glad that I did.
Becker’s book helped change my thinking from a practical/philosophical perspective. One thing that especially stood out to me was how minimizing your stuff can create space in your life for what really matters––the people. I was also struck by the need to cultivate a home that makes resting easy so that you can launch back out the next day to fulfill your life’s calling.2 More than anything, the book gave me the push that I needed to throw stuff away.
I began applying minimalist thinking to other areas of my life, as well––like my schedule. However, I still had frustrations. At the beginning of December, I was scheduled to take some teens to Ironwood Christian Camp in southern California. I prayed specifically that God would use this retreat to answer some of my questions.
The main speaker at the retreat was a friend of mine, Ron Perry. On Thursday night, Ron began with the words, “I had something different planned for tonight, but God laid this on my heart.” He took us to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 and preached a simple, straightforward sermon on accepting God-given limitations. It was wonderful. The Spirit was clearly at work in many of the teens. As for me, I took Ron’s last-minute change of direction as a specific answer to prayer.
Take a moment to read the passage Ron preached from.
“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. (8) Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. (9) And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (10) Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Ron pointed out that Paul’s entire life was ministry. He probably thought to himself, “If only this thorn were taken away, I’d be so much more effective.” However, God’s response in v. 9 transformed Paul’s perspective. Paul learned to view his thorn as a blessing because it kept him humble, positioned to receive God’s grace. He even went so far as to be glad about, “boast in,” and “take pleasure in” his infirmities! Talk about a change of heart!
Ron compared Paul’s thorn in the flesh to the God-given limitations in our own lives. These limitations take many forms. There are health limitations, financial limitations, time limitations, energy limitations, talent limitations, family limitations, house limitations, job limitations, and the list goes on and on. We each have a different set of limitations, but all of us have them. We can try to muscle through our limitations in pride, but humility accepts those limitations as good gifts from God.
This was the theological answer I was looking for! What I had called “minimalism” was simply a humble response to the God-given limitations in my life (even space limitations!).
I can’t say my life is stress-free now, nor will it ever be. My wife has had some complications with her pregnancy, and that has added difficulty to our lives. However, my attitude is different. We have thrown away a lot of items and taken some trips to Savers (though you would never know it by looking at all our stuff). I am quicker to say “no” to calendar items and more sensitive to my need for rest.
Instead of trying to entertain my kids every evening (that’s a lot of pressure!), I have gone to “winding down” with them instead. We may listen to an audio book together while doing dishes, play “Donkey Kong” on Super NES (yes, we still have one of those), or watch an educational video together on YouTube. The pressure is off to be “super dad” at home, and I’m quicker to say “good enough” at work. It’s a wonderful feeling.
Ironically, this new perspective has not created less ministry, but more. I have found that my kids need a stress-free dad more than they need extracurricular activities. Also, when I was “focused” all day at work (with furrowed brow and everything), I tended to push away people.
Don’t get me wrong, I still need to be focused a lot of the time. (I am by no means promoting laziness!) However, now, I try to take little breaks now and then to go down to the break room and grab a snack or perhaps take a walk and get some fresh air. I have made these changes in light of my God-given energy and productivity limitations. The funny thing is, there are times when my best ministry all day comes on these breaks, as I notice people, ask how they are doing, and allow God to use me.
After years of self-examination, I have stopped asking the question, “What is the root of this problem” and replaced it with another question: “How is this problem related to pride?” As usual in my life, pride was the problem all along. It was pride that made me think, “I can do more and have bigger and better things for my family all at the same time.” But God isn’t lying when He says, “God resist the pride, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5).
Perhaps you are like me, and pride is causing you to chafe at your limitations. Won’t you recognize that those limitations come from God and that they are meant to keep you humble? Accept them humbly and watch God give you joy.
Growing Fathers Team
Kristopher serves as as the youth and discipleship pastor at Northwest Valley Baptist Church in Glendale, AZ. He and his wife, Elise, have four young children—Anaya, Felicity, Mollie Jo, and Klayton.View all posts by Kristopher