The last 2 months have been full of moments where I have been stretched. Specifically in my spiritual life and in leadership development as I navigate different situations. I often feeling like I'm being tested with how much I have left in my "caring tank". I want to make clear that these times have been positive stretchings, not negative. I don't intend for this to sound like complaining, I take joy in wherever my #lifeofadventure takes me.
My two jobs require that I am a care-giver in different ways depending on the day. Whether it be physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or sometimes a blend of a few.
There are times where I feel excited to step into new territory, especially in my pastor job knowing it will be a challenge, because in the past when I have continued walking into that new territory I grow closer to God. This growth comes from an utter reliance on Him that I need guiding me thru my inexperience. Learning to trust him. As we all know how trust is such a vital aspect of any healthy, close relationship.
With the encouragement from another pastor friend of mine, I took last Friday to take a breath, be quiet, listen, and be aware.
Giving God a day.
Anytime I need a day like that, I will often find myself driving away from the city and into the woods. (Check out my first blog post here for my wilderness and community heart).
I decided to go to Riding Mountain National Park due to the longer drive and more time of reflection. I regularly don't choose this beautiful park due to it feeling busier with people than I'd like. This day, being late March, I figured it would be quieter. As I left the big city, I had my camera on my lap- ready if any animals would show themselves to me.
During my 3 hour drive to the park, I was reflecting on the challenges I faced and extra hours I put in. How at times I felt cared out, and tired.
Then I had a thought hit me. It came quickly and suddenly and I knew it was the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. It was a thought that I have had before, and it's a tough one to realize... again.
"Paul, you take everything on by yourself and don't rely on me as you should for your strength.
You can't do God's work if you don't include God in it."
This sadly is a theme I find myself in at times when I feel weak. In my weakness, I know the Bible promises He is my strength.
Isaiah 40:29 says:
"He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak."
In my weakness I typically continue to rely on myself to keep going, when in reality- the road gets bleaker and leads to burnout.
The words from a Christian leader in 2 Corinthians 12 felt appropriate for me this day as an encouragement:
Each time God said: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
As I entered the park, I felt like it was podcast time. I started listening to a sermon series on Prayer.
I know prayer is a weak spot for me, and I really want to improve my prayer life.
Something that was highlighted as I listened was the term "Abba".
The original language of Jesus was Aramaic. The proper translation of "Abba" was more like "Papa". It shows how intimate the relationship between Jesus, and Son of God, and His Father in Heaven was.
In Mark 14:36 we see Jesus, who knows that his arrest, wrongful conviction, mocking, betrayal, and torture awaits him, in a moment of feeling like his soul was "overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death", fell to the ground and prayed to God in heaven: "Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."
In these verses, I see a total trust and complete reliance on his "Papa".
It made me realize how the God that the Bible tells us about, is truly my heavenly Father. He wants me to talk to Him, tell Him how I feel, include Him in the big and little things in my life. He is my "Papa".
This made me think of my 3 year old daughter when I come home from work, and upon hearing the door open starts calling "Daddy", and the stomping feet running from whatever room she was in comes straight to the front door to greet me.
Or how when she needs anything she calls for Mommy or Daddy first. Fully reliant on her parents.
Wow, I wish I would do that with my Daddy in Heaven. I want to rely on Him all the time, I want to include Him in my everyday tasks. in my workplace, in my relationships, in my interactions...
The fact that Jesus taught us to pray not just to "God", but to "Our Father, who is in heaven..." shows the level of relationship that an all knowing, powerful God wants to have with me.
As I drove, listening to this sermon series on Prayer, I met some local photographers on the road. They told me they were on their way to check on a spot where a bear had been flooded out of its den site prematurely due to the winter's melt.
We pulled up to the area and saw the bear under the shadows of a few trees. It looked like it had made a big bed of leaves on the ground- a temporary home to endure the cold early spring.
After we all took a few photos from the roadside, we spotted a tiny head pop out from under the bear and catch a ray of sunlight.
A cub!? Wow! It was the smallest little baby bear I have ever seen. Once we realized there was a cub (maybe more, but couldn't tell), we left the scene to respect the animals. We all left feeling worry for that little bear family as the temperatures in that area are still expected to be cold and "What if it gets too cold and that cub dies from exposure?" and "What if a predator comes along like another bear, or wolves?".
As I drove home the 3 hours at the end of the day, again reflecting on the day (which also included seeing my first lynx!!) I got hit with chills as another Holy Spirit prompted thought hit me:
"The theme of my day was my newfound hope to rely on my Papa God more and for every aspect of my life.
What did I see? A very young bear cub. Too young to not be in the safely and comfort of its den. Extremely vulnerable to the elements and predators, and it has no choice in its dire situation than to rely fully on its Mamma Bear.
If that cub thinks it can take care of itself and wanders away from the cover of its Mamma, well... I don't think it's story would be a happy ending.
This is why I am drawn into the wilderness. God hears me, He talks to me, He shows me.
The greatest adventure in this life is a relationship with God, who has planted the seed of eternity in our hearts so we may seek and know Him.
God is not a distant supreme being that doesn't care about you. He loves you like a perfect Papa.
Check out the photos below, and see the cub in the cover of its momma.