Leading from Our Soul : Presence

In a recent trustees meeting, my friend Kenny shared this Scripture passage from Joshua 3:1-5 : ‘Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before…” Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

The Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God dwelling in the people’s midst, first under Moses’s leadership and now under Joshua’s. Joshua is standing with his people at the edge of a vast unknown land and they are about to go in a “way they have never been before.

Sound familiar? How many of us as leaders feel that we find ourselves currently facing a similar vast unknown of life after Covid-19, taking tentative steps on an unfamiliar path, wondering desperately if we are leading our people in the right direction?

Can we learn something from Joshua here? Remember, Joshua was the one who would stay behind in the tent of meeting in God’s presence long after Moses had come out. And what does he do now? He encourages his people to “consecrate themselves” to prepare for their journey into the new and unfamiliar. This typically involved prayer and fasting, a sort of rededication of their lives to God and His purposes. Joshua again seeks the presence of God and leads his people in that.

My own years of leadership could best be summed up in this prayer: “Father, I don’t know what to do. Help!”
Unfortunately, that prayer often came after I tried following my own ideas, which then at times preceded burnout or near burnout.
I was blessed to have a pastor who called me out on this unhelpful pattern in my life and leadership and challenged me to put some life-sustaining rhythms in place. ( Thank you, Jon! Neither of us will ever know what disaster you may have helped to prevent in my leadership! )

As I began to learn more about spiritual disciplines and rhythms, I came across this quote from Henri Nouwen which pierced deep into my soul and became, in a way, my north star by which to navigate my little boat of life and leadership:
‘In the spiritual life, the word “discipline” means “the effort to create some space in which God can act”. Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied… to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on.’

This has become key for me, not just in my personal life, but in my leadership. All my decisions come out of that place of sitting in God’s presence. And when life is extra busy, I try and become more intentional in “creating some space in which God can act.” And when I don’t do this, I feel it immediately. I lose focus, I lose awareness of His presence. I look up and am not certain which direction He has headed off in. I am more insecure, unwilling to step into the unknown.

But when I am creating that space to be in His presence, then I am at rest, even in the busyness. And I am not as afraid of the unknown path, because even though I can’t see that far ahead, I can see Him. And His presence is enough.

Leading from Our Soul: Pressure

This new blog series is for anyone in leadership, whether you pastor a church of 200 or lead a cafe team of 5.
For most leaders the past few months have been intense, exhausting, constant, bewildering – and we know there is only more change to navigate and lead others through ahead of us. So how do we make certain that we are not leading from the final dregs of whatever energy, wisdom, grace and compassion we have left but leading from souls that are connected to the life-giving breath of God?
In this series, a few different leaders will share from their personal journeys in leadership something they have learned that has been key for them to live and lead in a sustainable way. Scott Brennan kicks us off.

There is a word in the Bible that has spoken to me for many years. It is the word pressure. I’ve been involved in leading churches for the last 20 years and pressure is something I know about.

If you are anything like me, that pressure results in stress, it causes me to doubt myself, to wonder if I am cut out for this role?

Pressure is not automatically bad. I love Iona marble. It is more beautiful and tougher because it has had to endure pressure.
This word pressure in NT Greek is thlipsis. It can be translated as tribulation or suffering.
A good example is Romans 5:2-4 which says:
we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings (thlipsis), because we know that suffering (thlipsis) produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

I am very aware of the pressure that is on leaders at the moment. We are meant to come up with solutions to Covid-19 pastoral care, we are meant to have solutions for the Church’s decline in Scottish secular society.

It is a pressing time. I find it interesting that the word Gethsemane means oil press.
The Garden of Gethsemane had an olive grove and they must have pressed the olives to get their oil. Jesus often met his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, it was a place of fellowship and shade from the midday sun. However, it is also where Jesus sweats blood.

How did Jesus handle this?
First of all, he entered a place of prayer. He wrestled with the Father, seeking answers but finally submitting his will to the Father’s will. Luke 22:42 says:
Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.
I have often felt like this. The pressing and the pushing are part of the process.
The next verse says, “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.
To glory in pressure, we must seek the presence of God, and that can include the ministry of angels.

Secondly, Jesus sought the support of Peter, James and John. In Matt 26:38:
“He said to them, “My soul is consumed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me.
Even Jesus sought the comfort of soul friends. Leaders need people to walk with them. The danger is we go it alone and that is often our experience.

I have three observations:
1. Pressure is part of the glorious work of God, it shapes and moulds us
2. We need intimacy with the Father, Son and Spirit which means we have to set aside time in silence and retreat to listen
3. We need soul friends to help us navigate the ups and downs of life.

If we do not change our rhythms and expectations, we will suffer burnout. Better to build in new habits now and build reserves for the future.

Scott leads Lighthouse Central in Prestonpans where he lives with his wife Faith and their two sons. He has a passion to see transformation of both the individual and community. When he’s not out talking to people about how much Jesus loves and values them, he can often be found with a paintbrush in hand, sometimes retreating away on a remote island.

Slowing Down to Notice

Jon Timms wraps up our series on “Creating Space for Life in the Midst of Lockdown”, sharing a new spiritual practice that he has learned and come to see as a gift during these past weeks of lockdown.

There isn’t much I like more than getting outside on an adventure. It doesn’t really matter where. I love exploring rugged coastlines, winding forest trails, epic mountain grandeur or the cafes, street food and nooks and crannies of the city. Most weekends begin with my family perusing maps or getting packed up for a day’s adventure. Thankfully we live in place that the readers of Rough Guide travel books voted ‘The Most Beautiful Country in the World’. There is a lot of choice here in Scotland.

I find that when my heart feels alive in these places I feel a deep connection to God. These are gifts that lead me into prayer and worship and cultivate intimacy with Jesus.

So what to do in lockdown?

The restrictions mean that we can’t stray too far from our front door. I begin to sweat and feel the onset of cabin fever.

But this has been something of a gift that I didn’t know to ask for. Slowing down to notice means that you’re awakened to beauty that usually flies past in a blur.

We take the kids and the dog out on a daily walk. And like most of you we take the same or similar paths most days. Ours is a little trail next to a stream dotted with trees one side and a field of crop the other. We can then either take a left and head into the woods or a right onto the salt marsh, dunes and beach.

The start of lockdown had us meandering past bare trees and fallow fields; the forest floor looking desolate from the recent logging activities. As the days and weeks pass small shoots begin to appear on the ends of branches – signs of life reappearing after winter’s deepening; the forest floor began its change from dead brown leaves to vibrant green ferns. We noticed more deer in the woods (for a party that includes 4 children under 13, to see the noise sensitive deer is quite an accomplishment), we listened for the woodpeckers and the shy but elegant flight of the heron.

In short, repeating regular patterns meant we began to notice, we were able to see the natural world around us change with the seasons, something you miss if you’re forever chasing a new experience. The small shoots become huge trees in all their fullness. The small ferns grow into their own little fern forest among the giant pines. Birdsong is louder and makes a perfect symphony with the rustling treetops and the waves of the sea.

This beautiful wander around the area near where we live leads to a greater wonder about the one who makes all this happen. Creation in flow is the Creator’s gift to us, if only we’ll take our foot off the accelerator long enough to notice. We were made for Eden, and if we’ll open our eyes, ears and hearts to the sacredness of the ordinary, perhaps we’ll glimpse echoes of a former glory, and whispers of a glory still to come.

My new spiritual practice is that of slowing down to notice. I’m taking this into other areas of life too……and as our phased return to normalcy approaches, perhaps our new rhythms could come with us.

Jon leads Discovery Church alongside his wife Emma in Dunbar, East Lothian, where they live with with their four children and Barney the dog. Jon loves wild places and open spaces, beauty, surfing, mountains, music that sings to the soul, playing his guitar, craft beer, good coffee and a roaring campfire with family and friends. He particularly loves journeying with his kids as they discover life, beauty and adventure for themselves.

Treasure Hunting

Emma Timms continues our series on “Creating Space for Life in the Midst of Lockdown”, sharing some of her family’s rhythms and practices that are shaping and forming them and keeping them going during this season.

We are 8 weeks in and we are tired, our tolerance levels are running a bit low. World-wide pandemics really take it out of you!

Me, Jon and the kids. (The dog seems fine…)

We are zoomed out, getting a bit fed up of being all together all the time, sad from the loneliness and the struggle we see around us and the big stretch of uncertainty ahead of us. We are missing family, friends and our normal adventuring.
So that’s the first thing I guess – confess your struggles. Yes, there’s a lot to be grateful for – stirrings in the Kingdom and our safety and health. But it’s also a hard time and owning that and admitting it brings a lot of relief. When we bring things into the light, we bring them straight into the presence and peace of Jesus.

So we are struggling but we aren’t sinking.

There are six of us in our home – kids aged between 6 and 12 – so there is an obvious and expected level of noise and busyness. We have lived a lot of years trying to cultivate healthy and sustainable rhythms as a family and they are paying off more than ever now. Our weekly Sabbath, a whole 24 hours of rest and delight. My morning * Breath prayer and nightly * Examen grounding me and helping me daily deal with what’s happening externally and internally (especially with the lack of regular space and solitude in the day), breaking the build up and blow up cycle of un-dealt with frustration and hurt. So I definitely recommend finding a rhythm that works for your personal circumstances and committing to it. Start easy and be kind to yourself, let these formational practices bring life and freedom, not guilt and duty.

And if I could be so bold, I would love to suggest something to you to start with or add in:

Treasure hunting.

Start becoming an avid seeker of the gold treasure hidden all around your everyday, ordinary life, and if you have kids bring them on the adventure too. The more you seek, the more you find. The more grateful you become, the more things make you grateful. It’s amazing.
Here are some concrete ways we do it:
• Every day I ask that God will give me eyes to see Him and His gifts through my day. You know the saying – “See him in anything or miss Him in everything.”
• Every night at the dinner table we go through and each person says what they are grateful for from the day and then we do it again casually as we put the kids down.
• On our walks we look for things that are interesting or beautiful and we point them out to each other.
• In my nightly Examen I linger in the gratitude section and I practise remembering and saying thank you.

In this time of coronavirus when so much is different this is my simple offering of what is helping us.

1) Own what’s tough and bring it into the light
2) Start small and commit to life-giving rhythms.
3) Treasure hunt for the gold in your everyday life.

We have a bit to go ahead of us, but let’s come out of it a people more honest, grounded, humble and grateful than when we went into it.

Happy treasure hunting!

Emma x

Emma and her husband Jon lead Discovery Church in Dunbar where they live with their 4 children and Barney the dog. Emma teaches Pilates and has recently been leading others in Pilates combined with Contemplative prayer practices, such as Breath prayer and the Examen. When not in lockdown, you will often find Emma wild swimming.

* If you would like to learn more about different prayer practices such as Breath Prayer or the Examen, check out the ‘Toolshed’ at prayercourse.org.