By Mike Pennington
The flight attendant has a definite life-saving purpose when she tells you to put your oxygen mask on first if you’re flying with a small child. In those critical moments of life or death, your life must be safe before you secure the life of others. How secure is your mask today?
In this unprecedented time of the COVID-19 virus, people are scrambling for oxygen. It’s hard to breathe. The stress is overwhelming. Then, too, you’re a pastor! People need you. They cling to you for comfort, courage, and hope. Like Paul, you could declare, “Not to mention other things (trials), there is the daily pressure on me: my concern for all the churches” (II Corinthians 11:28 CSB).
Jesus said, come unto me … I will give you rest. However, nothing about our world today promotes rest, only stress. Getting to God’s rest comes down to properly answering three questions. Am I loved? Am I safe? Do I belong?
It’s so easy to believe some things with my head. I believe in the unconditional love of God. I can preach it, teach it and convince others of it, but for so much of my life, I lived as if I had to earn it. Understanding the truths revealed in the baptism of Jesus radically changed my perspective, and my life.
“As soon as (Jesus) came up out of the water, He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my beloved son; with you I am well-pleased.” (Mark 1:10-11) Note the vivid language, torn open. The Father had something crucial to say, “Jesus, You are beloved and well-pleasing.”
The significance? At this point, Jesus had not done one miracle! He had not walked on water, calmed the storm, healed the blind or raised the dead. Jesus’ belovedness did not depend upon performance; it was based on relationship. Could it be that my belovedness doesn’t depend on my performance? Yes! He loves me because I’m His child. However, the world works against belovedness.
Henri Nouwen shares, “Yes, there is that voice, the voice that speaks from above and from within and that whispers softly or declares loudly: “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.” It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout: You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable, you are nobody — unless you can demonstrate the opposite.”
My journey into really understanding and embracing the Father’s beloved love for me began in September, 2018. Space will not permit sharing the complete testimony, but I have not been the same.
Today, in spite of the crisis, the virus, and the world spinning out of control, I can rest knowing that I am loved. The first key to caring for your soul for the sake of others is to “be loved.”
The Scripture declares our belovedness. For instance, Isaiah 63 declares: I created you for my glory. You are mine. I know you by name. I have redeemed you. I love you! You are precious to me!
Because I am loved, I am also safe. I am safe in His arms (Mark 10:16). I have peace with God (Romans 5:1) and in Him there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1). Resting in safety is the second key to caring for your soul, but here the crux changes to a rhythm of both self-care and others-care.
Belovedness is meant to not only be experienced and embraced, but also given away. My personal safety and security in Christ leads me to be a safe person for others.
People feel unsafe when they feel judged, condemned or broken. A truly safe person listens deeply like Jesus. Jesus was always present. He projected safety and people were drawn to Him.
How present are we? How distracted are we by smart phones? Many wives and children are crying out for the presence of their pastor-father. Caring for yourself for the sake of others begins at home.
The last key is belonging. We belong because a relationship with Him is based upon who He is, not what we have done.
Our new identity: Child of God, Beloved, Chosen, Redeemed, Adopted, Accepted, Sealed with the Holy Spirit — all based upon relationship not performance!
I pray you’ll embrace the journey to care for your soul for the sake of others. Jesus will meet you there.
— Pennington is director of missions for Bledsoe Baptist Association. He and his wife, Kristi, are former Southern Baptist missionaries to Venezuela. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.