Archives For devotions

Cultivate spiritual health

ib2newseditor —  February 9, 2017

tibbettsTimes of ministry burnout are coming, Heath Tibbetts told leaders gathered in Springfield for the Illinois Leadership Summit. So are areas of weakness. But there is a way to prepare for those inevitable difficulties, said the pastor of First Baptist Church in Machesney Park.

“Spiritual build-up prepares us for burnout and blind spots that we know are on the horizon,” Tibbetts said during his breakout session on the spiritual health of a leader.

One warning sign that spiritual build-up may be lacking, Tibbetts said, is reacting poorly to challenges. There was a time, he said, when his church didn’t plan for occasional obstacles, like losing a Sunday school teacher or facing a bill they couldn’t afford to pay. Leaders can fail to prepare in the same way, if they allow their current plans and level of knowledge to be enough.

“Visionless ministry punches the clock.”

So, how can a leader make sure his or her spiritual health is strong? Tibbetts suggested several ideas, including coaching from other leaders. He recently starting a mentoring relationship with a pastor in another part of the country, which started when Tibbetts read a magazine article about how the other church was utilizing facility space and e-mailed the pastor a question.

There’s also a need for trusted friends who can ask questions like, “How’s your relationship with your wife?” Tibbetts added.

Building oneself up spiritually also comes from time with God himself, he reminded his audience. “Personal devotion is one of the easiest things to let slip in your life.” As a pastor, if sermon preparation is the only study he does, Tibbetts said, and if he isn’t spending devotion time in other parts of Scripture, not only will the sermon be lacking, but he’ll also be missing a valuable build-up opportunity.

When ministry burnout does come, Tibbetts said, there are ways to confront it. Unplug, and “say no a lot.” Leaders need to remember their vision for ministry, even apart from what they are currently doing. “Visionless ministry punches the clock,” Tibbetts said, asking leaders to identify, What defines you separately from your ministry?

And keep building up. Tibbetts said a man in his church recently waited two months to call him for a counseling appointment, because he knew his pastor would ask about his spiritual life, and he wanted to make sure he was reading his Bible. If you’re confronting burnout, Tibbetts said, schedule more times of prayer.


Layout 1“Father, … I commit my spirit!”
Read Luke 23:46-49, John 19:31-42

Here are some signs that Jesus’ work really worked: The earth shakes, as God’s own creation trembles at the mighty act just finished on a barren hill outside the city. The massive temple curtain separating the place of God’s holy presence from sinful people is ripped from top to bottom, signifying the Creator’s invitation to humanity to enter into restoration. And on the cross, Jesus makes his own great declaration of faith in the Father’s plan: I trust You.

How could Jesus say this?

No prisoner in solitary confinement was ever more alone than our Christ on the cross. It had to be that way.

faithOnly Jesus could serve as the sacrifice for our sins. Only Jesus could be our spotless lamb. Only Jesus could be the human qualified to pay the penalty for sin. Because he was sinless. And in this he was unique in all of the universe. In this he was alone.

All he had to hold to was the Father’s promise of life on the other side of the grave. Soon he would rest, his salvation work complete. Soon all heaven would celebrate.

PRAY Lord, because of Your great love and completed work on the Cross, into Your hands I, too, commit my Spirit.

Layout 1“It is finished!”
Read John 19:30, Hebrews 1:1-3

When its payment is completed, a bill is customarily stamped “paid in full.” No more payment is expected. The cancelled paperwork is proof that the debt is no longer held against the debtor. In New Testament times, the word written across the final invoice was tetelestai. This Greek word means “it is finished.”

Tetelestai (pronounced “tuh-TELL-uh-sty”) appears only twice in Scripture, in John 19:28 and 19:30. In the first verse, “Scripture” is described as tetelestai. Often translated as fulfilled or completed, it is finished. Jesus did everything the prophets said he would do. He left no job undone, no stone unturned.

finishedOnly two verses later in John’s account, Jesus himself declares his mission accomplished. After six hours on the cross, painfully pulling his body up to swallow every breath, it is almost impossible for Jesus to seize enough air to shout this news.

But he does. And everyone is stunned.


PRAY Lord, I am amazed by all you did to save me. Thank you for completing my redemption. Your work is finished, and I am paid for in full.

Layout 1“I thirst.”
Read John 19:28-29, Psalm 69:21,
Zechariah 12:10

Several times the Gospel writers say the events of the crucifixion happened to fulfill Scripture. Jesus sipped the sour wine. His bones were not broken, which would have sped up the dying process. His side was sliced open, and the water separated from the blood that spilled out showed he had died. Why was it necessary to fulfill the Scriptures?

Doubters might say that Jesus, sweet but deluded, had sacrificed himself unnecessarily. They might say there was no divine plan from before creation to redeem humanity from sin and death. They might say it was all miserable happenstance, a bad turn of events.

fulfilledBut as the pivotal point in all history, the crucifixion was no accident. And to prove it, the Author of the plan had it written down hundreds, even more than 1,000 years before it happened. Bible scholars point to over 300 Old Testament prophecies of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah.

And for it all to be proven true for those of us who stand on the A.D. side of time, Scripture was fulfilled. Down to the last sop of vinegar. Down to the last spear point.

PRAY Lord, thank you for the details of the crucifixion proving Jesus’ humanity, the reality of his death, and your divine plan over it all.

Layout 1“Why have you forsaken me?”
Read Matthew 27:45-49, Psalm 22

The crowd on Golgotha thinks Jesus is calling on Elijah for rescue, but he isn’t. He’s calling on Elohim. With the opening to Psalm 22, he invokes the entire prophetic psalm. It’s a word picture written a thousand years earlier showing the Messiah, abandoned to die.

How can someone who lives in constant contact with two others ever be alone? That has never happened before. The Trinity is the perfect picture of community: three persons enjoying complete unity, holy boon companions always in agreement.

forsakenBut for three hours Jesus feels nothing but the weight of our sin, and the one who knew no sin becomes sin for us. It’s so revolting that the Father who ordained it can have nothing to do with it. And Jesus, for the first time in all eternity, is alone.

Standing beneath the cross, disciple John and mother Mary witness in the skies what’s happening within Jesus Himself. The sky grows dark. The sun is blotted out. And rain falls on them all, the tears of heaven, as Jesus cries, Why have you left me?

PRAY Lord, when I feel alone, remind me that you know how it feels. And because You bore my sins, I need never be separated from God anymore.

Layout 1“Woman, behold your son.”
Read John 19:25-27

Jesus’ most tender word from the cross is to Mary; perhaps his most challenging is to John. Behold. To both of them he says “behold,” a command meaning to look, see, and understand.

“Behold your son…behold your mother.” Behold my provision; behold your responsibility.

To Mary, Jesus is affirming his love for her. As the eldest son in the family, it is Jesus’ duty to provide for his mother in his earthly father’s absence. He entrusts her care to his dearest friend on earth, his beloved follower John.

familyTo John, what an awesome responsibility this must be, that his friend, teacher, and Lord would give to him this duty as if Mary were his very own mother. If he never knew it before, John must realize it now: he really is one of the family. Jesus’ family.

Behold. Could there be any greater statement of the love of God than to be made part of the family?

PRAY Lord, when I behold you, help me to understand that you are the Son, and you have welcomed me into your family.

Layout 1“Today … in paradise.”
Read Luke 23:39-43

One thief spits curses and ridicule. The other pleads, Remember me. Both deserve death for their crimes. The law said so. The judge said so. The hammer said so. The executioner agreed. But their reactions to their punishment are exactly opposite. Why?

One gives up hope, even when hope is right before him. The other holds onto hope, not because he can see it, but because it’s the only thing he has left.

futureOne man believes in death there is no future. The other believes in the future there is no death. And in response to his faith, Jesus holds before the believing thief the promise of paradise.

What a contrast to the utter degradation of the executioner’s hill beside the smoking city garbage dump: Paradise. Eternity. Joy. A never-ending future in the presence of a loving God.

PRAY Lord, help me remember there is a future and a hope as I face death, even though I deserve it.

Layout 1To prepare for celebration of the Resurrection, we must first witness the agony of the cross. Crucifixion is a most torturous form of execution. It may last several hours or several days. The body’s systems shut down and the condemned man’s lungs fill with fluid. In effect, he drowns. As he pulls against the spikes in his flesh, trying to lift his body just enough to gulp another breath, Jesus uses his last energies to make seven bold declarations.

Standing at the foot of the cross with his most devoted follower, John, and his mother, Mary, we watch as Jesus pours out his life. We listen for clues to his future – and ours – as the Lord of all creation bows to his Father’s will on our behalf.

Use these devotionals once a day during Holy Week, or as an hour’s contemplation on Good Friday.

“Father forgive them,”
Read John 19:17-24, Luke 23:32-34

forgivenIt’s brazen. The soldiers who beat Jesus then stripped him and nailed him to the beam. They raised the cross and let it drop into the hole that held it up, letting Jesus’ full weight pull against the severed flesh where the great nails affixed him. Now they have the nerve, stooping to the ground before that very cross, to gamble for the only nice thing Jesus had on earth, his seamless robe.

And yet, their brazen offense, to kill a man and rob him of his clothes as payment, is not the most heinous crime Jesus suffered that day. He had laid on his back all the sins of all people of all time. And still, he says, Forgive them.

Who else could offer such a word? Only the one who is offended has the right to forgive the offender. Only he could extend grace to the one who sins against him. Jesus’ desire is always that we accept his forgiveness and live in his grace.

PRAY Lord, I, too, am responsible for your death. Help me to live in gratitude for your forgiveness.