During the Struggle

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“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” This is a line from Walt Whitman’s poem Oh Me! Oh Life! quoted by Mr. Keating, a character played by Robin Williams in what is one of my favorite movies. It is a powerful poem. It is a powerful movie. I think the poem itself exposes why I like the Dead Poets Society to begin with. It’s the struggle. The movie reveals a struggle with which I identify. I suspect we all do. William’s character struggles with an old system that he believes desperately needs reform. Within that system, young men at the all-boys prep school tussle with life in general, work to find their own way and struggle against the same system as Mr. Keating finding themselves thrust into it without choice. One of the students doesn’t survive it. Neither does Mr. Keating’s job. The movie captures Whitman’s foundational question well, “What good amid these, Oh me, Oh life?”

I’ve often wondered why I like this movie because it actually ends somewhat unresolved. But I think it’s because I identify with the struggle, the wrestling against brokenness and broken systems. I also watch the movie with a hope at which the movie never really arrives. The culmination of the story is when the young men who were touched by Keating’s life pledge defiant allegiance to him by standing on their desks proclaiming, “Oh Captain, My Captain!” Although I can identify in some ways both with Mr. Keating and students at that moment, what resonates more is the conclusion of Whitman’s poem, “That you are here—that life exists and identity…” Whitman points to more, to existence, to purpose, which leads to his conclusion of life as a powerful play and the opportunity to contribute. In the plot, this was Keating’s hope for his students, that they would find purpose. The fear? That they would be crushed under the weight of the struggle and miss the opportunity.

I think Keating’s point, and ultimately Whitman’s, is amidst the struggle there’s hope to make a difference—to contribute a verse. For me, the thought of contributing a verse is moving, exciting, stirring, and compelling. I even secretly and internally ask myself sometimes, can I make a difference? Can I contribute a verse? The questions arise all the more during seasons of struggle.

Here’s the truth:

It’s not the absence of struggle that allows an opportunity to contribute a verse, it’s actually the presence of it.

I wasn’t around in the 19th century when Walt Whitman penned his famous poem, so I have no idea what his thoughts are behind it. But I know how it speaks to me both in the struggle and the hope. It propels my mind to some promises given for this life. Here are two:

1. This life comes complete with tribulation (struggle)—John 16:33.

There is struggle in life and, at times, this struggle will feel unfair and unjust. But there is no reason for fatalism like Whitman’s question, “What good amid these, O me, O life?” Don’t give up because tribulation isn’t the only promise in this life.

2. There is always an opportunity to make a difference.

How? By learning to live out the supreme ethic of love. (Matthew 22:37-39). If you feel that your current struggles have you sidelined, just begin to make a difference in simple ways right where you are. How?

  • Smile at someone—you might make their day.
  • Be kind to someone—you never know how much of an encouragement you can be to a waitress, or waiter, or barista, or cashier, or coworker just by being kind in our world that is gripped with consumerism and self-centeredness.
  • Serve someone—whether it’s putting away your neighbor’s trashcan, serving at your local soup kitchen, visiting someone in the hospital, whatever it is, just serve someone.
  • Give an unexpected gift.
  • Ask someone how they’re doing…and mean it.
  • In short, find a way to love your neighbor. By the way, it doesn’t cost money to make a difference!

If you feel lost in the struggle of life, if you find yourself sidelined by circumstances beyond your control, start, or restart right where you are because Walt Whitman was right:

“The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.”

 

Photo by Jean-Pierre Brungs on Unsplash

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51568/o-me-o-life

3 Ways To Make Every Day A Good Day At Work

You may say, “they call it ‘work’ for a reason.” It’s true work isn’t always fun. It is, in fact, well—work. But like most other things in life, how you approach your work can have a lot to do with how you feel about your work at the end of the day. Here’s three motivators that can literally change, not only the way you feel about work, but how well you work in general.  Read More

Seven Ways to Heal Your Pastor

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 I shared a blog article from Thom Rainer yesterday on Facebook called “Seven Ways to Hurt Your Pastor”. I shared it, not to make a point nor to direct it at anyone, but simply because I agree with the article. I received quite a bit of feedback from sharing it which prompted me to write this post. I have experienced all of the hurts that Thom Rainer listed as well as some that are not there but I thought it would be good to write a article from the other perspective. I used the word “heal” in the title because it’s a pseudonym of “hurt” but what I mean is how you encourage your pastor. Having pastored a church for 5 1/2 years now, I’ve not only experienced some hurts but also some encouragement. This list may surprise you because it doesn’t included saying how good you thought the sermon was or how good of a person you think he is. It’s different than that.

This is how you encourage your pastor:

1.  When you’re faithful

There is nothing that encourages your pastor more than your faithfulness. It’s true that when you don’t come it can be discouraging but when you’re there, when you’re faithful to worship, it lifts your pastor’s spirit in ways you’ll never know. The pastor spends his entire week getting ready for Sunday. Oh, there’s a lot of things we must do throughout the week with church administration, helping the hurting and making disciples but there’s nothing like Sunday morning worship. We look forward to it all week long!

Also, when you’re faithful in your giving. Nothing will put a knot in your pastor’s stomach on Monday morning quicker than a bad offering report from Sunday. But, the opposite is also true. Nothing makes a Monday morning sweeter than when your pastor sees the offering report and you were faithful to give. Now, he can go on through his week without financial worry nagging ruthlessly at his subconscious.

Your faithfulness is amazing!

2.  When you’re loving each other

Every pastor has stories of watching church people shred each other in disagreement and conflicts. But, when you love each other, I mean really love each other, it is incredibly uplifting to your pastor. Not only when you say “I love you” but more when you treat each other in genuine love in how you act, live and cooperate. To see you do that, makes your pastor feel like you’re loving him.

3. When you’re telling others

So many people come to church just to get something out of it, but to watch you and hear your stories of how you are telling others about Jesus and inviting others to the gathering of the church is uplifting and inspiring. Not only is this true of how your pastor feels but also how others in the church feel. It’s encouraging to see you living your life for Christ and with His heart for others. Your pastor knows that this happens as God’s Word works in your heart like it’s working in his and he knows that you’re truly “abiding in the Vine.”

4.  When you sacrifice

When your pastor sees you pour out your life when it’s not easy, that’s so encouraging. It’s at this moment he remembers that he’s not doing this alone and it’s not all up to him. Sometimes he feels like everyone is expecting him to spend his life  (and sometimes his family’s life too) for the Gospel but when you live a sacrificial life it let’s him know you’re willing to spend your life too. I can’t tell you how uplifting it is for your pastor when he gets to serve with you in this kind of way (instead of just serving you).

5.  When you pray

It’s always encouraging when you tell your pastor you’re praying for him but that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean when your pastor sees you come to prayer meetings, praying at the altar, or even better, when he finds out that you took it upon yourselves to have a group prayer time without him planning it or asking you to do it. I can’t put into words what that means to your pastor. Again, he’s reminded that he’s not alone and he’s reminded that people are impacted by Christ and following Him.

6.  When you Worship

What I mean by worship is when your pastor can hear your voices filling the worship center, when you raise your hands (those of you who do that sort of thing) and when you’re so focussed on Christ that the tears are running down your face. It is so encouraging when you worship with smiles across your face and joy beaming from your countenance. It so makes a pastor remember why he’s doing what he’s doing and that the Word is bringing return. (Remember, Sunday is the day he’s always working for and toward.)  There’s nothing like people worshiping God is Spirit and Truth!

7.  When you love his wife

Many pastors wives don’t struggle because of people disrespecting or being unkind to them, they struggle because they so often feel left out. As awesome as it is for your pastor to see you interacting with each other, especially outside of church services, it’s incredibly uplifting when you invite and include his wife. Nothing breathes life into your pastor more than when the church is breathing life into his wife. When she has joy in the ministry so does her husband.

Do any of these surprise you? 

Much more than verbal expressions like, “that was a nice sermon” when you’re walking out the door Sunday, the above are ways that you can be a huge encouragement and even bring healing to some of the hurt your pastor has. Try it out, you’ll make a difference.