Empty tank

I’ve been running on empty—and what I’m doing to change that

A while back, a trusted pastor friend and I were talking about—oh gosh, something ministry-related—and he mentioned one thing that’s stuck with me since that day: how guys like him and me, because our particular gifts and interests, are really good at running on empty. We can rely on the backlog of information in our heads from years of reading, and not notice that something’s wrong—that our metaphorical tanks are getting low until we stop in the middle of traffic.

This year, I noticed it (though thankfully before anything terrible happened).

I’ve mentioned a couple of times now that this has been a fairly dry year for me, spiritually. I’ve not had any doubts about what I believe, no lingering “what ifs,” or crisis points… there’s just been a funk. There’ve been a lot of factors that have contributed to this over the last several years, including:

  • I went through a long and difficult season at work (for a ministry I dearly love) that took its toll on me physically and emotionally
  • A very cool opportunity that would have meant a major change for our family a couple years ago that went away almost as quickly as it came
  • The sudden onset of Emily’s epilepsy three years ago and the ongoing challenges it brings
  • Drama with our extended family (several relationships ending, with us having to explain the fallout to our kids)
  • Dealing with the reality of my own vanity, specifically in relation to being “known,” my inability to get a book off the ground in the last three years, and the regular grind of writing here and in other areas
  • A prolonged season of waiting—one that stretches back to before we sold our house in 2011, and continues up to today. There’s a real sense that God has something in store for us (a good thing), but to get there, we’ve got to wait. And waiting is not easy, as you all know. Especially when that waiting stretches from weeks to months to years…

There’s more, but I think you get the point. All of this has taken a toll, though. While I know what I “should” do–that is, in light of these things: pray more, pray harder, read even when you don’t feel like it—my prayer life has languished some (although there have been bright spots, which I’ll get to). Reading my Bible has been a struggle, to the point that there have been where there have been weeks where it’s gone virtually untouched beyond Sunday morning.

I’ve kept up with reading books and blogs and stuff like that, sure, but that’s not good enough. It’s not enough to experience a second-hand faith, any more than it’s okay to fake it till you make it (something I’ll talk about another time).

Which brings me to what I’m doing about it: In the past, I’ve shared about my reading plans to keep things from becoming stale. In 2014, I had the re-reading project, going back to a book I’d read in the past—some Christian, some non—to add a little more variety. In 2015, I planned to focus on time-tested works of theology, starting with Reformed Dogmatics. This year, my goal is not to share a reading plan, so much as my comprehensive plan to take better care of my own soul.

So here’s what that looks like:

  1. I’m going to re-read the Bible in its entirety at least once this year . I’ve not done this in a few years, so it’s something I’m eager to do again. Reading through the Bible from beginning to end allows you to get a better sense of the story of redemption, to see how the pieces fit together, and to celebrate how God was at work through all these events to bring about our salvation. To do this, I’m going to use Denny Burk’s reading plan, which is very manageable. I may make it through more than once if I also incorporate an audio Bible into my commute.
  2. I’m reincorporating journaling into my private reading. I don’t want to just read the text, I want to engage with it. So I’m going to be reincorporating a practice that has fallen off for me in recent years: journaling. For this, I’m actually going to be using a fancy-schmancy journaling Bible. (As I get accustomed to using this, I’ll share a couple of recommended versions to consider.)
  3. I’m selecting books specifically to build up, encourage and challenge me. I’m looking less to theological tomes and books related to current events (though I will still enjoy some of these). Instead, I’m looking at books such as:
  4. I’m reorienting my prayer life around Scripture. My prayer life in recent months has been at its strongest and richest when I’ve been taking the advice of Don Whitney in his book, Praying the Bible: by praying through Scripture.
  5. I’m taking control of my time. Tim Challies’ Do More Better was a real challenge for me on this. I know I can be doing a lot more and doing it a lot more efficiently. So, I’m going to start using better tools and time management to help me take control of my time.
  6. I’m trying to be more open about what’s happening in my life in my writing. Recently, a friend challenged me on being a bit too distant in my writing of late. That I’m speaking more in the abstract than I am writing from my own life. This was a welcome and fair assessment. So as I continue to write in the coming year, my desire is to be a little more open and let you all in in this process. (And hopefully this post shows that I’m taking this to heart.)

So that’s my plan after running on empty—on fumes—for so long. Fumes might get me to a shady gas station, but they won’t get me to the New Jerusalem. I’m done with running on empty.

Photo credit: 42/365 – feeling low via photopin (license)

  1. Which are full of pastoral encouragement, and probably more helpful than reading any of his sermons, as Tony Reinke discussed in Newton on the Christian Life. ↩︎
  2. I’ll be treating the latter as a re-read of Sensing Jesus, since The Imperfect Pastor is, essentially, the same book. ↩︎

4 thoughts on “I’ve been running on empty—and what I’m doing to change that”

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