Take Care of Yourself
Imagine you’ve gone to the doctor to make sure you don’t have anything worse than seasonal allergies. You’re asked the usual triage questions and then put in a room to wait. While you sit there, you listen to what has to be the worst coughing fit you’ve ever heard followed by a horrible hacking sound. You think, That poor soul is way worse off than I am.
Finally, the doctor comes through the door . . . and he’s the one with the terrible cough. It’s painfully obvious he shouldn’t be there to treat patients. He should be home, resting and drinking fluids. He’s in no shape to offer medical opinions to anyone.
Youth workers—paid and volunteer—often try to do that very thing. We offer spiritual guidance while we’re not healthy. And it can be easy for us to fake it while we’re leading students—for a while anyway.
It’s so important to make sure we’re caring for our own souls while we’re tending those under our care.
In 2 Timothy 3:10-17 we’re reminded that spiritual development is a lifelong process. Note verses 14-17: Paul tells Timothy,
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, and you know that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (HCSB)
If it were possible to learn it once and for all, then I suppose Paul would have said something like “Once you’ve learned it, just do what it says.” But instead he reminded Timothy to continue his spiritual training. And this wasn’t the first time he said something like this to Timothy. In 1 Timothy 4:15-16, Paul told the young pastor,
“Practice these things; be committed to them, so that your progress may be evident to all. Pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers” (HCSB).
If we’re not consistently spending time studying Scripture for our own edification, then we’re missing out on an important part of our relationship with the Lord—and we can hurt those we’re supposed to be leading. Students need healthy, growing spiritual guides. Notice I didn’t say perfect. None of us will ever be without fault, but we can be healthy examples.
How do we do this?
Spend regular time in prayer.
I spend a good amount of my time driving the vast expanse of the state of New Mexico. Because there’s a lot of nothing to pass through, it’s easy for me to spend lots of windshield time with the Lord. I don’t just speak to him—I also listen. I don’t listen to music or anything else—I’m quiet, and I listen for his voice.
Spend regular time reading and meditating on the Scriptures.
It’s important to do more than just complete the YouVersion reading plan for the day. If there’s a verse or a passage that stands out to me while I’m reading my Bible, I spend a little time chewing on what it means. It may take a little longer to read my assigned chapters, but the insight I gain makes it worth it.
Spend regular time in personal study.
This means we should study for our own edification and not just in preparation to teach. I just finished the book The End of Me by Kyle Idleman, which helped me think through some of the ways I’ve become self-reliant rather than dependent on the Lord. I’m currently reading Embracing Obscurity by Anonymous, and so far it has been challenging to me.
Spend regular time in spiritual discussion with others.
It’s important to find others who have have been on this journey longer than we have. I’m part of an informal gathering with some guys throughout my state. We have casual conversations, and we also get to have some really helpful discussion about ministry and the things we’re learning from the Lord.
This list isn’t exhaustive, but if we work to make sure these are a part of our lives, we’ll be better able to lead and teach with authenticity.
On an airplane, a flight attendant will go through the pre-flight stuff that most people who have flown before ignore: how to buckle your seatbelt, where the emergency exits are, etc. But on one flight, the oxygen mask part caught my attention: “Though we do not expect to lose cabin pressure, in the event that we do, oxygen masks will fall from the overhead compartment. Place it over your nose and mouth and breathe normally. If you’re flying with someone who will need assistance, secure your mask first, and then help the other person.” When I heard this, it was almost as if the Lord were gently thumping me on the back of my head: “Hey, Sam, this is a good spiritual principle for you.” Sounds like good advice to me.
Sam Swann is married to Brenda; they have 5 children, 2 sons-in-law, 1 daughter-in-law and 6 grandkids (so far). They live in Albuquerque where, for the past 9 years, he has served New Mexico Baptists as the Director of Student Ministries for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. He is well acquainted with suffering and pain as he has been a Chicago Cubs fan his whole life. Oh, and he really likes dark roast coffee.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.