Looking After Yourself

Nature_Beach_Relax_034690_1Let me ask you 10 questions.[i] In the last 4 weeks,

      1. How often did you feel tired out for no good reason?
      2. How often did you feel nervous?
      3. How often did you feel so nervous that nothing could calm you down?
      4. How often did you feel hopeless?
      5. How often did you feel restless or fidgety?
      6. How often did you feel so restless you could not sit still?
      7. How often did you feel depressed?
      8. How often did you feel that everything was an effort?
      9. How often did you feel so sad that nothing could cheer you up?
      10. How often did you feel worthless?

Give yourself a 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 for each question.

1 – none of the time;
2 – a little of the time,
3 – some of the time;
4 – most of the time;
5 – all the time.

You should be somewhere between a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 50. Score 2 or above per question and you have a medium risk of depression. Score 3 or above and you have a high risk. Depression has been called the common cold of emotional illnesses. Everyone gets depressed at times, but some people are depressed nearly all the time. For most it is mild, for some it becomes clinical. If you scored above 30 I would encourage you to make an appointment to see your GP this week.  For most of us, the weather in February is depressing, we are vulnerable to colds or just plain irritable. Lack of sunshine and short days exacerbates seasonal affective disorder and clergy are no more immune than anyone else. In fact, thinking about the little test we just took, even if you scored between 10 and 20 I would encourage you to see your GP a minimum of once a year.

Do you have an annual wellness health check? Blood pressure, cholesterol  PST? My father died of a heart attack at the age of 54 and my father in law died of the same condition a month later. Aged 28, and still in my first year at theological college, I became the oldest man in either family. I determined to outlive my father and since then I have made sure my annual health check is in the diary, I exercise in the gym a minimum of twice a week, walk the dog twice a day, and I don’t answer the phone or the doorbell on my days off.

This afternoon our first session is called “Looking after yourself”. That implies – if you don’t, no one else will – which is not true, even if it feels like it sometimes.  You may have a loving partner, supportive Church Wardens, an understanding PCC, a caring Rural Dean, considerate Archdeacon and inspirational Bishop.  But self-care is our own responsibility and in Christian leadership we can’t delegate that. In fact we must model it. If the ordained ministry is stressful, imagine the stress the Lord Jesus faced. There were gruelling demands on his time. He rarely had any personal privacy. He was constantly interrupted. People repeatedly misunderstood him, criticized him, and ridiculed him. He felt enormous stress that would have caused any of us to cave in.  But as we look at his life, we are amazed to see that he remained at peace under pressure. He was never in a hurry, he was never late, and always at peace. How did he do this? Jesus’ life reveals some profound spiritual and psychological principles that we would do well to learn from. Please turn with me to John 8:12-30 and lets find out how Jesus coped with stress.

          1. Identification: Know who you are

Jesus knew who he was. He said, “I am the Light of the world.” (John 8:12) On another occasion he said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6) “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11) “I am God’s Son.” (John 10:36). To handle stress you must know who you are.
If you don’t know who you are, other people will pressure you into being someone you aren’t.

I was appointed vicar of Virginia Water 20 years ago this month. After being offered the position, both Church Wardens resigned… A good deal of stress results from wearing masks, being unreal with others, living double lives, or trying to be someone we’re not. Who are you?
If you have trusted in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, God says you are a child of God. (John 1:12). So who are you?  First and foremost, you are a child of God! How and where you serve him, is really quite secondary. Your security is not in your title or position, in your freehold or common tenure, but in your identity as a child of God. You are deeply loved and accepted by God because of Jesus. Therefore do not let other people treat you as less than a child of God. 1. Identification : Know who you are.

          1. Organization: Know where you are going

The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going.” (John 8:13-14)

Jesus knew where he was going. He knew what he wanted to accomplish. He was on a mission and nothing deflected him from it. In Luke’s gospel we read,

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51).

He set his face toward Jerusalem and the cross. That was his mission.  Every day you either live by priorities or you live by pressures. It’s so easy to operate under the tyranny of the urgent instead of focussing on the important. And then come to the end of your day and think, “Have I really accomplished anything? I used a lot of energy and did a lot of things, but did I accomplish anything important?” Have I achieved anything that will have eternal consequences? You will greatly reduce your stress if you spend a few minutes each day praying through your schedule for the day. Ask “Lord, is this really how you want me to invest my day for you? Ask yourself, “Am I willing to exchange 24 hours of my life for these activities?” I use four quadrants to determine my priorities – urgent and important, important and not urgent, urgent but not important (delegate), and not important and not urgent (ignore).  I hit the first and get them out of the way so that I can concentrate on the important while it is not urgent.  How can I look after myself? Identification: Know who you are. Organisation: Know where you are going.

          1. Dedication: Know who you’re trying to please

“But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me… “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also…The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him” (John 8:16-18, 29)

The third principle of stress management is dedication. Jesus knew whom he was trying to please. When you don’t know who you’re trying to please, you will be vulnerable  to three things:

          1. criticism (because you are concerned about what others will think about you),
          2. competition (because you worry about whether someone else is getting ahead of you), and
          3. conflict (because you’re threatened when anyone disagrees with you).

Criticism, competition and conflict. One of the most helpful resources I have found for handling this is a book by John Maxwell. “There is no such thing as business ethics”

It contains his 10 “principles of conduct” which are based on Matthew 18.  I am so passionate about them, I have made them our standard operating procedure for our staff team and they are one of our church policies endorsed by the Church Council. And they can be found on our website.

          • If you have a problem with me, please come to me (privately)
          • If I have a problem with you, I’ll come to you (privately)
          • If someone has a problem with me and comes to you, send them to me (I’ll do the same for you)
          • If someone consistently will not come to me, say, “Let’s go see him together. I am sure he will see us about this” (I’ll do the same for you)
          • Be careful how you interpret me – I would rather do that myself. On matters that are unclear, do not feel pressured to interpret my feelings or thoughts. It is easy to misrepresent intentions
          • I will be careful how I interpret you
          • If it’s confidential, don’t tell. If you or anyone else comes to me in confidence, I won’t tell, unless the person is going to harm themselves, the person is going to harm someone else or it involves a child who has been physically or sexually abused. In cases of church discipline, the clergy will follow Jesus instructions in Matthew 18:15-20. I expect the same from you
          • I do not read unsigned letters or notes (Bishop Michael Baughen posted them on the church noticeboard when he was Rector of All Souls)
          • I do not manipulate; I will not be manipulated; do not let others manipulate you. Do not let others try and manipulate me through you
          • When in doubt, just say it. If I can answer it without misrepresenting something or breaking a confidence, I will

I’ve added an 11th. I always accept resignations.  Everyone knows it. That way no one can use the threat to manipulate or get their own way. Experience at St John’s Stoke.  If I focus on pleasing God, not other people, it will simplify my life. I will more likely be doing the right thing, regardless of what others think. How can you look after yourself?

          1. Identification: Know who you are.
          2. Organisation: Know where you are going.
          3. Dedication: Know who you’re trying to please.
          1. Meditation: Develop your personal walk with God

I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.  They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father… I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” (John 8:26-28)

Jesus strength and direction came from his daily communion with the Father. He spoke to the world only what he heard from his Father in heaven.  The Father spoke to him, and taught him and gave him the words to say. Jesus often got up “very early in the morning, while it was still dark … and went off to a solitary place” to pray. (Mark 1:35) The fourth principle of self care we learn from Jesus is to make a habit of personal prayer. There was balance and rhythm in his life. There were regular times for rest and solitude. If Jesus needed to commune with God the Father on a daily basis, if Jesus needed to get away and rest on a regular basis, how can we cope with the pressures we face without doing the same? Prayer and Scripture reading is a gigantic stress-reliever. A quiet time alone with God is like a decompression chamber. To prayerfully review our schedules, evaluate our priorities, and wait for instructions. Most people have no idea who they are, where they are headed or what their purpose is.

How can we better look after ourselves?

          1. Identification: Know who you are.
          2. Organisation: Know where you are going.
          3. Dedication: Know who you’re trying to please.
          4. Meditation: Develop your personal walk with God
          1. Concentration: Focus on one priority at a time

“He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come… So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.  29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” (John 8:28-29)

Principle five for stress management is the principle of concentration. Everyone had a Plan B for Jesus, but he kept right on doing what he knew God had told him to do. Teaching in the Temple courts, proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God, preparing for the Day of Atonement when he would be, as he says here, ‘lifted up’ – crucified on a cross. This would be ‘his hour’ and nothing would deflect him from it.  When I’ve got 30 things to do, I clear my desk and work on my highest priority. When I finish that, I pick up my next priority. When we diffuse our efforts, we are ineffective. When we concentrate our efforts, we are effective. Jesus Christ did not let interruptions or other people’s agenda’s deflect him from concentrating on his mission. What is your mission? For forty years, mine has been based on 2 Timothy 2:2

“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

How many generations of disciples are mentioned in this verse? Four. Our mission strategy in Virginia Water is based on three words – win, build send. – to make disciples who make disciples who…. In fact, the day I was appointed at Virginia Water, 20 years ago, I began planning my succession, my redundancy. If the church family are more dependent on us today than they were the day we were appointed, we have failed the basic rest of discipleship.

          1. Identification: Know who you are.
          2. Organisation: Know where you are going.
          3. Dedication: Know who you’re trying to please.
          4. Meditation: Develop your personal walk with God
          5. Concentration: Focus on one priority at a time.
          6. Transformation: Give yourself to Christ

“Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him.” (John 8:30). The sixth principle of stress management combines all the other five. It is transformation. We are transformed as we rely on Jesus, as we put our weight on Jesus, as we depend on Jesus, as we rest in Jesus. Jesus says,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28).

He didn’t say, “Come to me and I will give you more guilt, more burdens, more stress, and more worries.” Jesus is saying in effect, “I am the Stress Reliever. When you get in harmony with me, I will give you inner strength.”  The greatest source of stress in my life comes from trying to live my life apart from the One who made me, the One who has given us purpose in life. God promises through Isaiah

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15).

There you have it. How can we look after ourselves?
Six ways we can learn from Jesus:

          1. Identification: Know who you are.
          2. Organisation: Know where you are going.
          3. Dedication: Know who you’re trying to please.
          4. Meditation: Develop your personal walk with God
          5. Concentration: Focus on one priority at a time.
          6. Transformation: Give yourself to Christ.

A prayer of William Laud.

Grant, O Lord, that we may live in thy fear,
Die in they favour, rest in thy peace,
rise in thy power, reign in thy glory;
for thine own beloved Son’s sake,
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


A presentation delivered at the 2017 Epsom Deanery clergy retreat.

[i] Kessler and Mroczek (1994). School of Survey Research Center of the Institute for Social Research. University of Michigan. http://www.beyondblue.org.au/index.aspx?link_id=1.237