During Advent, our congregation moved through a series of point and counterpoint themes in our confession of sin and sermon texts. Below are the prayers that I wrote in case you might enjoy reading and using them:

ADVENT I – Despair

The days are drawing in and the darkness is growing around us.
As fall gives way to winter, we acknowledge that the light in our own hearts flickers and fades as does the winter sun. We are smoldering wicks.
In the midst of the bleakness of life we need your tender love, O God, to kindle our hearts into flame and to return warmth and love and joy to us.
[Silence may be kept]
Brighten our spirits and lighten our hearts this Advent season as we wait expectantly for our deliverance.
ADVENT II – Chaos

O God,
So often we feel like fallen leaves whipped across the ground by the winter wind. We move this way and that; there are no fixed points. We feel adrift in a sea of chaos.
[Silence may be kept]
We ask that in your mercy you would be for us that fixed point, our north star to guide us safely into the peaceful harbor where we may be refreshed, restored, and rested.
In the midst of our chaos, give to us your promised Sabbath rest and provide for our remaining journey through Christ our Lord.

ADVENT III – Sorrow

In this life, O Lord, you have promised us that we will know sorrow.
We know your words to be true.
Our hearts are heavy and our shoulders stooped with the weight of the tribulation known to us, our families, friends, and by fellow Christians around the world.
Were it not for you our legs should buckle, our strength should falter, and our souls should be crushed.
[Silence may be kept]
Comfort us with your promise that all the sorrow in the world cannot stand against you. It will melt away as does the snow in early spring.
Fortify us for the living of our lives.

ADVENT IV – Loneliness

In the midst of crowds we so often feel alone, O God. In the busyness of the commercial season we so often feel neglected. In the midst of this community and others we can so easily experience loneliness—a connection to others that isn’t deep enough to sustain us in our sorrow.
[Silence may be kept]
Yet your promise Lord Christ is that we are not alone. We are no longer orphans, but are united to you by the Holy Spirit in the mysterious unity of the body of Christ.
Give us grace to express this reality to those around us today. May we give the gift of initiative-taking even as you did leave us in our sin, but stepped down from heaven and entered into our situation.
Open our hearts, expand our minds, and take us outside of ourselves that in our words and actions we may display your love for the world today.

The summary: the more stressed you are, the more bad decisions you will make and the more negative outcomes you’ll experience in your life.

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I used this prayer at our Service of Remembrance earlier this week. It’s adapted from Q/A 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism. The PC(USA) is a confessional church, which means that we believe in the value of theological tradition. Using our theological tradition in liturgy is a valuable way to pray in accord with prior generations, but also to provide a theological vocabulary for parishioners.

Gracious Father,

Our only comfort
in life and in death is that we are not our own, but we belong—body and soul,
in life and in death—to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all our sins with his precious blood
and has set us free from the tyranny of the devil.

He also watches over us—and all those whom he loves–in such a way
that not a hair can fall from our head
without the will of our Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for our salvation.

We pause to recall, to remember, to grieve, to mourn, even to celebrate…. those whose lives have touched our own, and who have this year departed from this life into the life which is to come,

Because we belong to Christ–by his Holy Spirit–we may be assured of life eternal.

And in our remembering may our risen Christ make us wholeheartedly willing and ready 
from now on to live for him and honor the memory of those who have died in the Lord.

Amen.

My first year on the senior staff team of a large church has been exhilarating and pretty challenging. One of the biggest challenges has been learning to coordinate ministry initiatives across the church. This coordination requires effective communication and often meetings form the starting point for that communication. In a given week I usually lead a departmental staff meeting and three to four one-on-one meetings with direct reports. I participate in our senior staff meeting which is led by our Senior Pastor/Head of Staff, which is a blend of strategic discussion and tactical planning. I also attend our weekly pastors’ meeting which covers a variety of topics related to pastoral care, worship, and the like. That’s a total of seven meetings not including bi-monthly session meetings, and other committee meetings.

In each of these meetings, I capture notes as well as actions that I am responsible for. Early on I realized that by the end of the week I had a bunch of legal pads with meeting notes and actions accumulating on my desk. A lot of times it seemed that the stack kept growing and that I was at my capacity to keep up with things using such an ad hoc system. In ministry, just as in business, people don’t like it when you drop balls or miss important details. It erodes trust, which is the currency of ministry.

Stress Man

I decided to revisit David Allen’s influential book Getting Things DoneIf you’ve never read it, do yourself a favor and get a copy as soon as you can. Read it. Implement it. It will change your life.

Allen’s approach (GTD, for short) is a simple five step process that will enable you to externalize tasks so you don’t have to have them buzzing around in your head. Here’s a snapshot of the system:

  1. Capture—collect what has your attention
  2. Clarify—process what it means
  3. Organize—put it where it belongs
  4. Reflect—review frequently
  5. Engage—simply do

Consider this a GTD tutorial. You can learn the system and put it into practice by reading the five posts (of which this is the first).

Step One – Collect or capture what has your attention.

My Capture Tools: these are the places–physical and virtual–where I place “to dos.” They’re sort of like different buckets that I empty regularly into an orderly system for processing.

  1. Email Inbox: I get about fifty emails a day (at work, which is low). Most contain information and often an action. I process my inbox daily with a goal of getting to zero messages in my inbox.
  2. Office Phone Voicemail: I get relatively few phone messages. I usually listen to them and write brief notes on an index card and then throw that card into my physical inbox for processing later.
  3. Cell Phone Voicemail/Text: Same as #2.
  4. Office mail box: I process my office mail box several times a day, putting actionable items into my physical inbox.
  5. Levenger International Pocket Briefcase [Link]: I put receipts in my wallet, jot notes on index cards that are in the wallet, and process these into my physical inbox every time I return from outside of the office.

All of these capture tools end up moving action items either (1) into my physical inbox or (2) into a file in Outlook that I use to categorize and process emails into task manager.

inbox-zeroDavid Allen will tell you that the critical thing about collecting is that you have to collect everything. You’ve got to build trust in the system by using the system to handle all of your tasks or other data points that are taking your concentration or subconscious memory. And you have to discipline yourself to take one of five responses to something that comes across your desk (see the graphic to the left).

For all of these decisions (other than deleting) you have to have a system to help you to do things like:

  • Keep track of items delegated to others so that you can follow up on them.
  • Keep track of items deferred so that you’ll come back to them when the time is right.

It’s a big task especially in a profession where there are often unplanned major events (hospital visits and funerals) alongside a rigorous normal schedule of worship and work.

Next up: how to clarify!

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I love the thought behind this meme, except for the typo. Can you find it? More importantly, what steps can each of us take to be more like Christ in the midst of this broken world?