September 30, 2022

Thriving not just surviving

Guest post by Rachel White

This week we will discuss important issues like rest, healthy relationships, and personal spiritual formation. These are often the areas that are most critical to our ability to thrive in ministry but are easily neglected. This week we will seek to readdress the balance to support pastoral health and effectiveness. We want to see healthy, joy-filled, thriving Pastors, families, elders, congregations! We want to see people thrive not just survive ministry life. This morning I’m wondering… maybe, just maybe, we also need to reflect on how to thrive not just survive. I wonder if this theme is true for some of us in this room…. And not just something we need to help “other” people with…?

With all that is on our plates, I’ve spent this month wondering, how do we thrive not just survive?

Last week I had a “moment” in the midst of preparing for the Fall kick off to the year. In one week I was leading training and kick off events for three teams, engaging an intern in new areas, connecting new people to groups, writing sermon questions and preparing for a vision night with the rest of the pastoral team. Oh and not to mention sending kids back to school and a husband back to work post his sabbatical! I was asked to do just one more thing and it tipped me over the edge and I found myself in tears as we closed that meeting in prayer. 

The following morning I opened my Bible to my 90-day challenge through the gospels with a friend who came to faith earlier this year. I’ll admit I was definitely feeling a lot more like I was just surviving not thriving and it was in that moment that I came across a beautiful gift of a verse I’ve never paid much attention to before…

He gives the Spirit without measure John 3:34

I read that and breathed deeply. (Breath in and out) He gives the Spirit without measure. It is my prayer for you today that you might receive the same sense of being able to release your anxiety and receive the peace of Christ as I did in that moment. That by leaning less into our own abilities and more into his provision we might come closer to thriving than surviving.

Let’s take a few moments to dig a little deeper into the original context of this verse…

We are in John chapter three and Jesus and John are both out baptizing.

John’s followers seem to be surprised and upset by the numbers of people going to Jesus to get baptized. It appears that they may be expecting John to be jealous or threatened by Jesus’ popularity. When they say “look he is baptizing and all are going to him” it’s like they are worried that there isn’t enough to go round. Their reaction to Jesus is one of comparison. 

Isn’t that so often what happens when we are surviving not thriving? We can have a scarcity mentality and quickly jump to anxiety when someone else is successful.

This might have been the mentality of John’s followers, but John’s response reflects anything but a survival mindset….

Take a look at John’s response in vv27-30.

John’s response is so different from the reaction of his followers. He takes the opportunity to speak in the highest possible terms of honor about Christ. He affirms Christ’s authority and his submission to it. He is not striving or fighting for survival here. He takes the opportunity to point people to Christ and as such fulfills his own call. He celebrates Christ’s success and it brings him great joy to do so.

In addition, unlike his followers, he recognizes there is more than enough to go round. Just a few verses later, as he articulates how the Spirit has empowered Jesus to speak the words of God, he affirms that God gives the Spirit without limit.

This summer my husband took each of our kids away one at a time for special 1-2-1 time with him as part of his Sabbatical. He let them pick out where they wanted to go and designed the week around making memories and spending quality time. Each of them knew they would get time with him when it was their turn. They knew an abundant, exciting experience was waiting for them and have been non-stop talking about it for months! 

And yet…when it got to the month they were due to go away, they could not get past comparison with the other! For the entire month it was “it’s not fair” and “I want Daddy to myself” and “she always gets the better deal”, “he monopolizes Daddy”.  I’ve never seen my kids be so jealous of each other! 

As you might imagine, their reaction was in stark contrast with mine and Ellis’ perspective on the matter! We had our sights focused on the lavish gift of so much time prepared for each of them. We did not feel any sense of resources running out or time running out! Needless to say perspective makes all the difference.

It seems that might be what John’s followers needed too – a perspective shift. A shift from focusing on their limits, to focusing on God’s limitless ability to provide. A shift that would their replace comparison with joy. 

I wonder how often we need that as well to move us from surviving to thriving.

I think that John gives us an illustration of what it can look like to thrive in our calling, not just survive. With a perspective grounded in God’s abundant provision for all those he has called, he is able to celebrate the successes of others and experience joy in his own calling.

We need more of John’s way of doing life! 

So how do we live like John? No I’m not going to suggest to start dressing in camel’s hair and eating locusts and honey!

But I do think we find two clues in the passage of how to thrive not just survive.

  • First – John embraced his limits, and 
  • Second, he trusted the God whose power and provision are not limited.
  1. First John embraced his limits. John said, “He must increase I must decrease”. He knew he was a limited human being, and he knew he was less important and capable than Jesus. He knew his place and his role in his calling. He wasn’t trying to be everything to everyone, but he very specifically had a task to prepare the way and point people to Jesus. He was clear on his call, his place and his limits.

We too, embrace our limits when we take Sabbath rest, when we set boundaries between family and work time, when we accept help from others and when we clearly understand our unique call and don’t try to do everyone else’s job! We embrace our limits when we admit our need of a savior, and admit the ways in which we try to take control and to try to prove our worth. We embrace our limits when we practice repentance.

Like John, we need to embrace our limits and say, “he must increase, I must decrease”. 

  1. Second, John trusted the God whose power and provision are not limited. As John said, “He is above all” and “He gives the Spirit without limits”. We might be limited, but God’s power and provision is not limited…. We must make less of ourselves and more of him. 

We put our trust in the God whose power and provision are not limited when we practice giving, when we take a Sabbatical, when we give honor or opportunity to others and celebrate their successes, when we go to God and ask him for the help and provision we need, trusting he will answer.

Like John, we need to learn to trust the God whose power and provision are not limited and remember “He gives the Spirit without limits”.

If we could get those two things right like John…. Embracing our limits and trusting in our limitless God. I think we would be a lot closer to thriving not just surviving.

If you also have been merely surviving not thriving, I invite you, to repent with me and receive more of his Spirit. To embrace your limits and lean into his provision like John did. Then, by his power may he help us, like John, to thrive, with joy and celebration seeing the great works of God in front of our eyes.

Rachel White is pastor of LifeGroups and Alpha at Chapel Hill Church(EPC), Gig Harbor, WA