As I was reflecting on my time away over the last two months there was an interesting story that I heard that has application to my own experience. This story occurred during the time when the logging industry was a big part of America’s legacy. There was a huge and bulky lumberjack who took great pride in his ability to cut down trees. This lumberjack was greatly offended when his company hired a new employee who was from all appearances what we would call today a “wimpy” lumberjack and his company actually paid the skinny new employee more than they were paying the bulky lumberjack. To rectify the situation, he suggested a competition between himself and the scrawny new employee. Each would be given a pile of logs to cut in half and see who had the bigger pile cut at the end of the day. The bulky lumberjack proceeded to plunge right into chopping the blocks of wood without taking a break and he was very impressed with his progress. He also noticed that the scrawny lumberjack was taking frequent breaks, so he knew for sure that he would have a bigger pile of wood chopped. Yet when the end of the day came, the scrawny worker's pile was considerably larger than the bulky lumberjack. He was mystified as to why and how this happened, until his coworker told him that when he was taking breaks, he was actually sharpening his blade, and because his blade was sharper throughout the who
le day, he was able to chop more wood than his bulkier and stronger competition.
A year ago, when the elders approached me about taking a little sabbatical, I was at first hesitant about the idea. When I finally agreed to take some extra time off, I shared with the elders that I would only do so if I could take special time with my family and then also have some personal growth experiences involved during that time. As it related to special time with my family, my first week in Michigan was basically just Debbie and I (after Sunday dinner with Lisa and Matt). This was definitely a very different Michigan week for us. After Deb flew home on Sunday, August 13 I had a wonderful week together with my two grandsons Ethan and Tyler, my son Matt, and daughter Lisa at the wonderful lake house we’ve been gifted on a 20-acre private lake in northern Michigan. After I came back and took care of some things here, the following week my oldest daughter Christina and I went for an enjoyable and pleasant time in the Outer Banks. When we got back from that very pleasant time, Deb and I went up to Lake George for the whole Labor Day weekend. We had never been to Lake George before and we very much enjoyed our time together there, just the two of us.
On the spiritual growth side after coming back from Lake George with Deb on Monday I left on Thursday to go to the SEND conference in Washington DC with Angel N and Dr. Vijay K and was spiritually fed by a wonderful time of ministry in the Word and challenging messages on become a planting church, as the theme was, “Churches planting churches, planting churches”. I also was tremendously spiritually refreshed and energized by the privilege that I had this year of being at the men’s retreat with Mark Crocco for the whole weekend, which was the first time in my 20 years of associating with this retreat that I was able to do so. I was blessed and refreshed this week to have attended Pillar’s Pastors Appreciation Breakfast on Thursday morning, which really was a source of great refreshment and encouragement to my soul and actually resulted in the subject of what I’ll be blogging about the next couple of weeks. I do also want to take a moment to thank the elders of NDC, for first of all their recommendation on taking extra time off, but then also their coverage of the church’s pulpit ministry and other details of pastoral ministry they covered while I was away. Thank you my brothers, for your service.
We read in the gospel of Mark these words, following an intense time of ministry for Jesus’ disciples, “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all that they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place,” (Mark 6:30-32 NIV). Jesus would teach us in this passage the importance of setting limits and boundaries as it relates to how much we should actually do in our service for Him. The apostles had been through a very intensive ministry experience, which they reported on to Jesus in verse 30. I could not have imagined a year ago when this discussion was taking place with the elders, all the things that would transpire in our church life and our personal lives to leave me in a very fatigued and exhausted state. The weaving of ministry pain and personal loss beginning with the death of my mother-in-law on October 25 (other losses that had already occurred) was a very difficult experience for me. Being able to have time for refreshment and reenergizing in my spiritual life will hopefully produce greater fruit in the future, and more wood will be chopped because the blade has been sharpened.
Pastoral ministry over the last 3 ½ years has become very challenging and much more complicated. Burnout in ministry has resulted in many resigning from ministry, because of the pressures and challenges of serving in these difficult times. Since March 2020 rates of depression and anxiety have skyrocketed across the board. Add to that a multitude of losses and deaths and the pressure can become overwhelming, in every facet of our society. Jesus knew what his disciples needed and that was to set limits and have boundaries. I’m thankful for those who challenged me to take a break from my regular routine so that I may put into place habits that will help me in the long haul, as I continue to serve the Lord Jesus Christ and point people to love God that is found in Jesus Christ alone.
The apostle Peter wrote and instructed us, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you,” (1 Peter 5:7 NIV). It is Jesus Himself who invites us to come to Him with our burdens and with our needs when we read, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” (Matt.11:28-30 NIV). Have you found that you can cast all your anxieties on Jesus and that He is equal to the task of carrying your heaviest load? He is the one who can carry our burdens and sharpen our axes. If you haven’t given Jesus your burdens, don’t delay any longer, He can meet the deepest needs of your heart and life.
All for God’s glory,
Pastor Rich Sivo