A little over eight years ago I was invited to join the Sandals Church staff. It was an act of surrendering one way of life for another. I was asked to pioneer the concepts of spiritual formation and soul care, planting seeds and nurturing them into the into the patchwork of our church landscape. Not really sure how to go about this, I simply began meeting with people and practicing the craft of listening, attending and intercessory prayer. I wasn’t picky with my appointments. I figured if they wanted to meet with me, then I would make time to listen to them while simultaneously listening to God on their behalf. The goal was for us to discover God’s invitation to them in their season of life, so that they might be able to surrender to be more in step with Christ.
Quickly the word got out, and before I knew it my calendar was filled with one-on-one conversations with people desperate for a word from the Holy Spirit. I was drowning in the demand, finding it most difficult to keep up with the pressing needs of the people, as well as the other requirements that came with being a pastor.
Then along came one person to help me, then another, and then a few more… and before I knew it, I had a little bit of help and a whole lot of relief. I was able to take the concepts I was practicing in my conversations with others and share them with these individuals who swiftly began to shoulder the load of the endless line of pressing needs. Because these individuals were willing to surrender their time, Sandals Church was able to expand its reach of care.
With that in mind we decided to train others as well. We got organized, wrote these principles down on paper, and waited to see if anyone else in the church might be willing to help us care for these hurting souls. Soon, many came to our training, suffering through the various iterations of content and delivery, in order to become equipped in caring for others facing all kinds of tragedy and personal crisis. In session after session each training grew in attendance as more and more people became equipped in the simple concepts of listening, attending and intercessory prayer.
“I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ. But you know how Timothy has proved himself. Like a son with his father, he has served with me in preaching the Good News.” Philippians 2:20-22 NLT
Fast forward to today, and hundreds of people have successfully completed the Soul Care training and are using the principles to care for any who would reach out for help. Like a fast growing vine, the concepts of Soul Care have woven their way into every aspect of our church, becoming a fruitful and foundational ministry. Today, Soul Care is ready to minister in some of the most complex of situations and loving many who are, at times, very difficult to love. When I think of them, I think of how the Apostle Paul felt towards Timothy, as captured in the letter to the Philippian church. Each of these individuals who surrendered their time and attention to willingly become and behold the gospel of Jesus in the lives of the most desperate of desperate, are like beloved children to me.
Finding Joy Is Really That Simple
I don’t tell you this to boast about anything I’ve done. Not at all! All of this is the result of the grace of God working through me and a couple hundred of my dearest friends. I share this story with you because in reality, Soul Care wouldn’t have woven it’s way into the various ministries of the church if it had not been for God’s unbelievable favor on us as a collective group, willing to personally surrender our will in order to love others with the same unrelenting love we had received from God.
“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:12-13 NLT
When I think on the men and women that gave themselves to the work of Soul Care, I am reminded of these words of Jesus. Our role is to learn to keep in step with Christ in order to love one another in the same way that God has loved us. It’s really so very simple. Discipline yourself to be surrendered to Christ. And in that, learn to love others the way that God has loved you. Then, you will discover great joy in the process.
If you have yet to find joy, then reframe your focus. Your challenge is that your gaze has been turned inward on yourself. It could be you’re looking out at God and others through a lens that first opens to yourself and then points in a direction moving from the inside to the outside. You might be internally motivated by a deep seated need for personal contentment, potentially reaching out to God and others to meet their individual needs.
But that’s not how it works in the kingdom of God. Jesus invites us to follow His example. We’re taught to surrender ourselves, and all that we’re holding onto, for the sake of loving God and others. Jesus has already walked the road, paving the way for us to follow. All we have to do is keep in step with Him.
“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” Hebrews 12:2 NLT
When we surrender ourselves, our needs, wants, and desires to God, and learn to keep in step with Jesus, then God will lead us into a life of unceasing joy.
So What Now
Last summer I was given an incredible gift of a 40 day sabbatical. To have the opportunity to take this much time to rest, refuel, and spend time with God and those closest to me was absolutely unbelievable. I had all sorts of wonderful expectations for my time away from the church. What I didn’t expect was some of the things that God was going to talk about with me.
During my time, God began a conversation with me about letting go of the Soul Care ministry. It sort of went like this, “Hey Dan, what do you think about surrendering Soul Care ministry to your newly hired Soul Care director so that you can focus more time on the areas of spiritual formation within the discipleship team?” Truth be told, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with that conversation. But, I was astute enough to know that if God thought it was a good idea, then I should probably think so too. I knew that it would be to my benefit to surrender to his will in it. I recognized it as a significant opportunity to keep in step with Christ, even if I wasn’t really certain that I wanted to do it.
Earlier this year, that conversation with God came to fruition. Even though God gave me a 6 month heads up to wrestle through and prepare for it, the process of surrender has been difficult. This is a ministry that I cast vision and developed a strategy for, wrote and re-wrote the training materials, spent countless hours working on as well as many hours working in, and still had vision for what I wanted to see happen going forward. I’ve sort of equated it to raising up a daughter, giving her everything you had, raising her into a mature adult, and then surrendering her into the loving arms of her new husband for the next phase of her life. While I know that when the time comes for me to do that with my two daughters, I will realize that surrendering the Soul Care ministry pales in comparison to giving one of my little girls away in marriage. Nonetheless, it’s a similar and challenging process of surrender for me.
When we surrender ourselves to the God who loves us infinitely more than we could ever love ourselves, we will find that he will lead us to a place of immense joy. Learning to keep in step with Jesus so that we can love God and others more, very rarely will be easy, but will always lead to our joy. It’s the words that Jesus spoke over His disciples and, consequently, speaks over us as well.
“I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! ~ Jesus (JOHN 15:11 NLT)
This is God’s promise to you. He’s reaching out his hand and inviting you to grab hold, to keep step with Christ by surrendering your life, your will, your needs, wants, and desires to him.
Reflect on this…
- To what extent are you willing to keep in step with Jesus through the act of surrender?
- What might God be inviting you to surrender as an invitation to finding real joy?
- What’s keeping you from taking that next step in your surrender?