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What keeps you going?

If you tuned into the blog yesterday, you saw my disappointment and to-the-bone weariness. I had actually sent out an email to my family about baby Moses and asked “What do you think, should we adopt?” So, news of his death yesterday was a little more personal than all the other deaths we’ve had …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

If you tuned into the blog yesterday, you saw my disappointment and to-the-bone weariness. I had actually sent out an email to my family about baby Moses and asked “What do you think, should we adopt?” So, news of his death yesterday was a little more personal than all the other deaths we’ve had to process over there in Swaziland.

And perhaps this morning there’s a small sense of drama as to the state of my soul (“Is he down for the count? Tune in tomorrow!”) But, if I was feeling tired and weak, the outpouring of encouragement many of you gave reminded me of something of what’s at stake here. It took away the lonely edge on my circumstances that was causing my focus to veer in the direction of a pity party. Jesus thru you lifted my sagging chin. Please know how humbled and grateful I am to you.

I woke up from a dream early this morning – I was at some foreign airport. I’d lost my bags and my tickets, and as far as I could tell, there were no flights back to the U.S.A. I couldn’t even find a ticket counter to ask a question!

I don’t know about you, but life periodically feels like that to me – only, as a leader in our culture, I’m not allowed to show confusion. Most people don’t want to take a vote on where to go, they just want to ask the question we all whined to our fathers as children, “Daddy, how long till we get there?”

I don’t know how other leaders do it. I can’t tell you how many discouraged, beat-up pastors I’ve seen who looked like me in that dream. After pouring themselves out for their sheep, they’re sent packing without their luggage, a ticket home, or even a ticket counter to ask questions.

I’ve been to this distant unnamed land multiple times before. In the early days of AIM, we’d finish a hard summer of ministry and come together bruised and bloodied for a staff retreat in the north Georgia mountains. A number of those years I remember not knowing if everyone might quit – it seemed like they would. Each time, I would spill out my complaints to God as I’d go on early morning prayer walks. And I’d get the word of the Lord. That’s what kept me going.

One year, I was so peeved at my staff. I felt like Moses with the children of Israel when he smashed the Ten Commandments. God spoke to me and said, “Go back and wash their feet.” That was not what I wanted to hear. But I got a basin and a towel, and some wall between us was torn down. We cried together and reconciled. I hated the process, but it kept me in the game.

Another time, we lost a young staff member in a terrible accident. Again, I had nothing to give – the well of living water had run dry. And as I prayed, God spoke to me as plain as day and said, “Seth, I brand my sheep.” It was a word so perfect and personal that I was reduced to tears of poignant gratitude. Branding is a searing, burning experience, but it marks you for life.

Paul talked about his branding in 1 Cor. 6:4-10 (he starts with “in great endurance; in troubles, hardships, and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots…” and then he really gets going). Of course for a real “Oh yeah – top this!” list, check out 2 Cor. 11:22-33 where we get Paul letting out all the stops, detailing 31 separate specific trials he’s faced, along the way saying, “I am out of my mind to talk like this.” No wonder Paul can make such a bald assertion to Timothy – “All godly Christians will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). No equivocation there, it’s gonna be rough, so buckle in and hang on.

What kept Paul in the game is what has kept me in ministry for 27 years. It’s the word of the Lord. Yesterday the word of the Lord came to me in the form of Taylor, Jessica, Karen, Christine, Mark, Brian, Gerrid, Pat, Jen, Allison, Taylor, Tom, Uche, Katherine, Alison, Vickie, Andy, Kim, Jeff, Angi, Mike, Kristen, Betty, Tara, Tori, Talia and a much longer list of people – some of whom I don’t even know. God spoke to me thru you and said, “Chin up, soldier.” And the word of the Lord kept me going.

I don’t know what keeps you going. I’ve found Paul’s promise of hard times and frequent pain to be accurate. Most days, the TV evangelists’ promise of “your best life now” makes me want to lose my lunch. I don’t know what planet they live on – Plastic-World, maybe. For me, slogging thru the mud and blood of real life, it’s the word of the Lord that keeps me on my feet.

Comments (15)

  • Heather (of untraditi

    You know I have been reading and praying, reading and praying, and we are continuing to pray about the orphan situation and waiting on God. We too had the urge to “just adopt him” and we have been waiting on God for some time regarding the possibility of adoptionwe know it is coming but not when. There is also the urge to fix everything to make everything all right and to jump in right now and make things better. We can’t and God knows best what is to come. Christian life is messy and painful even when you aren’t in deep end. Continuing to pray regarding the orphans as well as for you. Right now prayer is our strongest weapon.

  • You’re welcome, Seth. We’ve all been able to see you model this vulnerability and honesty and you should know how effective it is in helping us know how to handle things that come our way. You are the type of leader I want to be, because you’ve shown us how not to be an island, but how to be real and an interdependent member of the team. I have so many examples of how not to lead that surround me, and I really need a voice like yours that questions the leadership mold and listens to what God has to say on it. I guess what I’m trying to say is thanks for taking us through your ups AND your downs, because we don’t have many that are willing to, and we need that to grow as people and as Christians.

  • WOW!!!! I love the experience of what God is doing through you and this ministry. Thank you for sharing it so openly and honestly!

  • Seth – your question…What keeps me going?

    I’ve been in pastoral ministry for 20 years and this has been my credo:

    Make my lifestyle match my priorities.

    My priorities:
    #1 – A growing personal walk with the Lord
    #2 – An encouraging relationship with my wife/family
    #3 – An authentic ministry that God has granted to me

    I don’t have too much trouble coming up with a good set of priorities, what I struggle with is living them on a consistant basis.

    It is so easy for #3 to overtake #2 and #1. But it CAN’T. If I start to see it beginning to happen, I MUST reevaluate what I am doing (or at least how I am doing it).

    I am forever trying to make sure that my lifestyle reflects my priorities (my wife helps me tremendously with this – I have learned to listen to her)

    Bottom line: Someone else can do my ministry – no one else can raise my family.

    That’s what keeps me going.

  • S I C (Sister In Christ)

    Song lyrics to: “WALK IN THE DARK”
    by: Wayne Watson

    Where are you taking me-why are we turning here
    The road is strange to me-this path is not so clear
    Must be the place where mu doubt turns to faith
    Where I close my eyes and take your hand

    I’d rather walk in the dark with Jesus
    Than walk in the light on my own
    I’d rather go through the valley of the shadow with Him
    Than to dance on the mountains alone
    I’d rather follow whever He leads me
    Than to go where none before me have gone
    I’d rather walk in the dark with Jesus
    Than to walk in the light on my own

    I’ve made some plans yo know-mapped out a strategy
    Somebody tell me where did the seasons go-have You forgotten me
    I’ve heard the darkest hour is just before dawn
    And wherever You are the sun will shine
    There will be shadows-but I won’t be shaken
    ‘Cause You’ve never forsaken a vow
    You’ve never failed me before this I know
    And, Jesus, you won’t fail me now

  • Seth,

    Stacy and I have often had a problem with trust concerning church leadership. It’s not that anything was ever “done” to us, as many others would have a long list of abusive church leadership stories. Our lack of trust was always something we were never able to really put our finger on. It was just there.

    When we visited AIM for our first round of training for The World Race we left feeling as if we had found our home. We didn’t understand why, but what we were able to say was, “Man, the AIM staff are amazing people!”

    It was not until this past week that a little light was shed on this entire perception: honesty and transparency of a leader.

    Until our AIM encounter we had never seen this nor known of its core importance.

    I can follow you and the leadership of AIM not because you are this great and might man of God, but because can I trust your transparency.

    Thanks for being real.

  • Seth, thanks for being honest with us and not hiding in your pain and disappointment. I hope that through this you are blessed in your service in the kingdom.

    Sometimes, the single thing that keeps me going is knowing that life is just like that sometimes. Sometimes life just stinks. That isn’t very motivating, or at least it doesn’t sound like it, but that reminds me of being faithful.

  • I echo Brian’s sentiments. I don’t need a “perfect church.” I need a real church. Thanks for providing that for me… even from afar.

    What keeps me going is testimonies like this, frequent exposure to the poor (which brings clarity and perspective to my little story and pseudo-drama), and significant time with God (a silent retreat, time of fasting, or hours of private prayer). In the end, I need both God and community to keep me going… just real relational connection with my Creator and his Creation.

  • That even in the midst of the worst kind of sorrow, I can thank God for His holiness, because I know the ‘other side’ will come… I don’t know when , but I know it will.

    Plus, I know that in my thanking God in the middle of sorrow, it really pisses the enemy off.

    Thanks for your transparency all the way through Seth. May God bless you and support you through this, as He has before and will again.


  • You don’t know me. I know of you thru Tom Davis…I went on his recent CHC trip to Swaziland. I just wanted to let you know that I’m praying for you. A few years ago we had been thru a nasty church situation and some other garbage. I remember being at a point where I literally considered walking away from God and Christianity, but He reminded me of what Peter had said…”where would I go”?

    I stayed with God but it took a long time of healing and choosing to trust (I also lost a baby…I’ve actually lost 5 total over the years) before I was back fully.

    I’ve been in ministry basically my whole life in some form or fashion…whether as a paid “professional” or just a regular gal doing what she can on top of being a wife and mom. I’ve definitely had my hurts and disappointments. I’ve learned the hard way that some of the nastiest hurts are the ones that come from other Christians.

    It can be so hard at times.

    Sometimes it really does seem more than can be born. Sometimes it doesn’t even seem worth the effort.

    But He always has a way of breaking thru the pain and showing us His love and why the fight is worth it.

    Praying for you and those around you this week who are feeling battered and broken and confused.

    Praying that you’ll know His peace that passes all understanding.

    Praying you’ll have the mind of Christ and all needed wisdom.

    Praying for grace.

    Praying for love.

    Praying for healing.

    STILL a sister in the Lord,
    Elysa Mac

  • I’m so encouraged by how you continue to go to God even in the really tough times. How you turn to hear from God in the midsts of struggle is such an inspiration to me. I’m praying for you. Thanks for the advise yesterday, I appreciate you taking the time for that. Yep, ministry is rough. Thanks for being an example.

  • It’s amazing how being in a leadership role will make you want to put on a front or not show the real you for fear of being “found out” or whatever the fear may be. So thank you for showing me thru your openness how to be a strong, humble and open leader.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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