Two Sets of Virtues

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love? (David Brooks)

I’ll admit that I’m attracted to the résumé virtues. Who wouldn’t want to be known as a gifted communicator, a beloved pastor, a clear writer, and a successful church planter?

Then there are the eulogy virtues that will never make it onto a résumé. In fact, they may make my résumé less impressive: man of prayer, husband and father who made time for wife and kids, servant who didn’t chase limelight, good friend, man who cared.

A friend of mine was asked by a search committee what he desired if he came to their church. To his credit, he responded with a list that reflected mostly eulogy virtues. It would be great for the church to grow, but what he wanted most, he said, was to love the Lord more, to love his wife more, and so on. It wasn't the answer they expected.

The older I get, the more I recognize my desire for the résumé virtues, and the less I trust this desire. In the end, it’s the eulogy virtues that I really need. I’m praying instead for a character God can use rather than accomplishments others can admire.

Thankful

I’m attending an annual retreat this week with a group of pastors. I blogged about this a couple of years ago. I think every pastor should consider starting or joining such a group. I find it much more helpful than a big conference — and that’s not a slam against the big conferences.

Study Retreat for Pastors — photo compliments of Chris Brauns

Study Retreat for Pastors — photo compliments of Chris Brauns

I was struck by something that one of the pastors prayed yesterday. He thanked God for the retreat. and then mentioned that there are many in the world who would kill to be part of something like this. It’s true, and I don’t think about this enough.

It’s easy to overlook how blessed we are, and it’s tragic. To have the time, to have the money, to have access to scholars, to have over 4,400 resources in my Logos library, to enjoy the company of pastor friends, to have the privilege of being in vocational ministry are all incredible privileges I am prone to overlook. God forbid me from taking them for granted or developing an attitude of entitlement.

We’ve received much. What will we do with what we’ve been given?

The Smartphone and the Soul

It’s still a good quote, even though it’s dated:

Fax machines, emails, telephones, beepers, an over-committed schedule, the press of people's needs...these are the tools of mass destruction for spiritual leaders. Their development and deployment often proceed without inspection. They threaten to shut down the spiritual leader's communion with God. Once that happens, the leader's effectiveness is destroyed. The leader becomes a casualty of a struggle that is as old as humanity – the drowning out of eternity by the screams of temporal concerns. (Reggie McNeal, A Work of Heart)

Fax machines? Beepers? Other technologies have taken their place, most notably smartphones. According to the one report, smartphones have had one of the fastest penetration rates of any technology ever introduced. I remember seeing a secret review unit of the iPhone in 2007, less than a decade ago. It’s impossible to go anywhere without seeing one now.

Is the phone in my pocket a tool of mass destruction for the soul? Does it hinder my connections with people and God? Maybe there is some danger. Consider what these numbers reveal about Canadians between the age of 18 and 24:

  • When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone — 77% agree
  • I check my phone at least every 30 minutes — 52% agree
  • The last thing I do before I go to bed is check my phone — 73% agree
  • I often use other devices while watching TV — 79% agree

Since smartphones aren’t going away, we’d better learn to live wisely with them. Secular books like The End of Absence and Christian books like The Joy of Missing Out and The Next Story explore what technology is doing for us, and how we should now live.

I have two thoughts.

First, pastors and church leaders have to go first. Technology gives us great tools, but always at a cost. Unless we’re careful, we’ll get swept away in the currents along with everyone else. I heard a pastor speak recently about some of the habits he’s cultivated to maintain his spiritual life in an always-connected world. He checks email only twice a week. He’s disabled email on his smartphone. He puts his phone away when he arrives at home and refuses to check it. While I’m not suggesting that we should adopt his habits, I am suggesting that we think carefully about the habits we want to cultivate so that our souls can thrive.

Second, we need to disciple in light of this technology. People haven’t changed, but some of the pressures we face are new. We’re constantly connected, instantly available, and glued to screens from the moment we open our eyes in the morning to when we shut them at night. As Michael Harris writes in The End of Absence, “That is the end of absence— the loss of lack. The daydreaming silences in our lives are filled; the burning solitudes are extinguished.” We need to disciple others in light of these new realities, and consider practices that guard our souls in this always-connected world.

We live in an always-connected world. While I’m happy about this, there are trade-offs. We need to think carefully about how to live well with this technology, which is a gift, but also a potential danger to our souls if we’re not careful.

God Save Me

God save me

...from roast beef without horseradish
...from sushi without wasabi
...from goat without curry
...from roti without spice
...from thirst without water
...from bread without gratitude.

God save me

...from nights without sleep
...from mornings without wonder
...from tears without comfort
...from grief without hope.

God save me

...from busyness without purpose
...from weeks without Sabbath
...from life without margin
...from money without generosity.

God save me

...from romance without commitment
...from commitment without romance
...from family without laughter
...from laughter without love.

God save me

...from law without grace
...from grace without obedience
...from sin without cleansing.

God save me

...from leadership without servanthood
...from ministry without prayer
...from preaching without power
...from church planting without evangelism
...from churches with a doctrine of grace but no culture of grace.

God save me

...from discipleship without suffering
...from praise from people but not from God
...from a life lived without hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant”
...from living for any other purpose than His eternal glory.

God save me from anything less than grace-fueled love for God and neighbor.

God Owes Me Nothing

Here’s what I often forget: God owes me nothing. I could be the best disciple or pastor, and God still owes me nothing. In fact, the opposite is true: I owe God everything. It’s a privilege just to serve him.

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Why do I live like God owes me something? Could it be that I’m really serving myself when I think I’m serving God?

In Luke 17, Jesus tells a story about servants who work hard but receive no thanks. Jesus concludes his story by giving us an important lesson: “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:9-10).

If we’re not careful, we will think that God is stingy and ungrateful. That’s not true at all. God is anything but stingy, and he repeatedly promises rewards for those who serve him.

Instead, Jesus is setting us free from thinking that we earn through our service. The moment that pride enters our service to God, we begin to serve ourselves rather than him. God isn’t stingy; God is good in preventing us from ruining our ministries with a sense of entitlement. He’s injecting grace into our service and knocking us off the earning treadmill.

“Though we have no claim upon him for a reward,” wrote Charles Simeon, “he will requite our services; nor shall the smallest attempt to honor him be overlooked.”

I owe him everything; he owes me nothing. My service is never about earning, and God desires to protect me from myself even in how I serve him.

I wonder how this would change my life if I really understood it.