I’ve more than likely written about restoration, and I know I’ve preached on restoration in the past. But today, there is a strong sense of the Lord’s restorative work in my own life that I want to share with you. I’ve noticed a shift in my mind and in my mood in the last month, and it’s been a good shift to say the least. My struggle with anxiety is not over, but I will say there has been a transformative and positive change. I have noticed more recently a restoration of the joy of the Lord’s salvation (Psalm 51:12), and it came from a simple reflection and shifting of my mentality about my personhood and pastoral calling. With that in mind, let me give you a back story as to how anxiety took hold of my life, and how most recently, I’ve noticed the Lord’s faithfulness in restoring the joy His salvation to me.
While I’ve probably struggled with anxiety for quite some time in my life, it became more apparent and associated with my vocation as a pastor. Since I’ve been on family leave from my denomination, in order for me to pursue the Ph.D., I’ve the blessing of physical and emotional distance to process my vocation and calling as a pastor in a less stressful light. A lot of my anxiety was fueled by my misconceptions of what and who I was hoping to be as a pastor. If you don’t know, I’ve known since I was seven years old that I was going to pastor. When I finally did, it was nothing like I was expecting or hoping, and therein lies the problem. Expectations and hope.
Expectations and hope may be two sides of the same coin. When we fail to meet the expectations of ourselves or others, hope may deflate like a balloon in the air: its direction is unknown and it makes a funny noise. Either way, when hope is lost so is love, faith, and joy. I know that I failed to meet the expectations of my congregations. I know that I failed to meet my own expectations. When I did, I let go of hope, thus losing sight of love, faith, and joy. What I’m reflecting on now is that maybe my expectations and hopes were misguided. I think I placed an unrealistic expectation and a false hope upon myself and upon those I served as pastor. I thought I had to pastor at an experienced level, and I hoped that my inexperience would quickly give way to achieving this hope.
Well, it didn’t.
Experience is really the best teacher, and by this point in my life, I’d say I have a few doctorates from ‘Experience University.’ From my experience, I can now say that I was actually workingfor the approval rating of the Church and not for the growth in grace of God. I was hoping I would make it big, to be honest. I was hoping that the Church would grow exponentially, despite my lack of experience, and others would seek my wisdom and knowledge. I was working for the people, primarily, and not for Jesus.
The eventual fallout was that I was not fulfilling my expectations or others because my hope was in something artificial. My anxiety, unfiltered worries and thoughts about the future of my life, took a deep root in my soul because I was trying to be someone else.
So, for over two years I prayed:
Lord, ‘create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew asteadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. (emphasis added is mine) Psalm 51:10-12
In the last month, I’ve noticed the faithfulness of Jesus has been in my life as he’s been patient with me as I learn to ‘dwell in the land and feed on his faithfulness.’ I’ve repented of living as someone else and for someone else other than for Jesus, and I think restoration has been a gift that I’ve noticed, just as this whole Psalm is presented…repentance and restoration. That is the story of scripture. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Repentance and restoration.
And, specifically, I believe it’s the grace of Jesus that slowly restores us before we repent, and I definitely believe it’s the grace of Jesus that continues to slowly restore us again and again. What grace! ‘O how marvelous!’
In the last week, I’ve really seen this restoration take place in real time as I’ve realized that I am who I am, and that’s ok. Jesus is patient and Jesus is kind. More importantly, Jesus calls me to take another step of trusting him today as he not only gives me prevenient grace but sanctifying grace. In the last week, I’ve really felt a strong sense of new vision for post-PhD life. (I’m not ready to share about that just yet!) In the last week, I’ve really felt that the Lord has restored a new sense of joy in his salvation, and it is not to the same degree I’ve experienced before.
I’ve laughed. I’ve smiled, even if just a smirk. I’m noticing more and more the needs of my wife and children. Finally, I’ve noticed a restoration of joy in my life.
And it’s good.
Real good. Don’t give up just yet, if you feel like it. Let go of what you think others expect of you, and let go of false hopes.
Praying the Lord restores joy unto you today.