Some time ago, I received a phone call from a good friend who wanted to talk. We laughed and remembered past experiences, but eventually, the conversation turned to how he was doing. For many years, Jack has led the U.S. division of one of the largest International Ministries. After more than an hour of him sharing about some serious challenges that the ministry faced and then numerous details about his own life, I suggested that we pray for some of the issues before we continued. After I prayed, he started to pray but immediately broke down and began to sob. After several seconds, He said, “Our talk confirms that I am not in a good place.” I think I would really benefit from spending a couple of weeks with you, would you be open to that?” I felt an immediate prompt from the Lord to say yes but told him I would need to check with my wife. Actually, I had some doubt whether or not I was the right person to help him. However after Mary Ann and I prayed about it, we had peace about inviting him for a visit. Then we found the best time for us, contacted him, and we set a date.
About three weeks later, he arrived at my home, and we had a delightful lunch and a time of fellowship. Then we went to my office and began to unpack the load he was carrying. Actually, we spent the first two days just talking about his schedule and the pressure he was under. Most of the time I just listened, but during each session, I was more and more convinced that either my friend was depressed or more likely was completely burned out and maybe even close to a collapse. I think it was the third morning that I sensed God would have me take a very different and highly unusual approach as I shared some thoughts with him. I warned him that I was going to do something that I have never done before and it will be weird for both of us. Then I said;
Jack, “I’m Jesus, and I want you to know how upset I am with you. In many of the choices you’ve made, you have been following men instead of me. Let me explain what I mean. I called you to lead this ministry, and it is a full-time job, but you have allowed yourself to be influenced by what I am doing in other men’s lives. You went to a conference, where a very Godly old man was speaking. He said that for most of his life he has risen at 5 am every morning, studied the Scriptures, and took notes so God would know he was paying attention. So you started doing that every day. Then you went to another retreat, and a person you respect was encouraging everyone to follow Paul’s admonition to Timothy. “Teach what you have learned to trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.”(2 Tim. 2:2) So you chose several men and have given them an enormous amount of your time. You agreed to write a book about the history of your organization. After hearing Tony Campolo speak about the needs of the poor in Haiti, you committed to helping him raise financial support. With your wisdom and leadership ability, they asked you to serve on the Elder board of your church, and you accepted. Because you are a knowledgeable and articulate Bible teacher, your calendar is filled with speaking engagements. I will stop now, but I could add many other things that I did not ask you to do. I hope you get my point.
I think all those things are wonderful, but many of them are things I did not ask you to do. You have created such a structured life that the pressure is killing you. You’ve admitted that the load you’re carrying is heavy, but I want to remind you that my burden is light. Some people would say that you are a clasical case of over-commitment, but I want you to understand that it is more serious than that. You’re so busy working for me that you can’t respond to my daily guidance.
I want you to stop everything you can, immediately, and then responsibly fulfill your other commitments. However, as soon as possible, I want your calendar to be empty, except for your responsibilities in leading this ministry. Stay in that condition for a week, a month, or maybe nine years and wait for me to speak to you. When the time is right, I will tell you what I want you to do so just respond to my leading. From now on you can appreciate and encourage the various things others are doing but don’t assume I want you involved.”
We spent a lot of time the next few days discussing how to follow Jesus by responding to the check and prompt of the Holy Spirit. He wound up staying only nine days but left with a commitment to follow thru on all we had talked about. He said he already felt a sense of freedom just anticipating what God had for him in the future.
Late breaking update report on Jack: He is still leading that great organization and says that while his workload is still immense, he feels very little pressure. He believes the Lord has led him to continue some of his former activities but most of them are no longer on his calendar. His latest email ended with;
“And my marriage has never been better.”