Don't Kill Your Horse

  • Alistair Brown
  • Jan 05, 2011
  • Category: Call
  • Blog Feed

In December I attended a conference for seminary presidents organized by ATS, which is Northern’s main accrediting body. It was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and before you imagine I was sunning myself let me explain that the city is over 7000 feet above sea level and, having attended this conference in each of the last three years, this is the first time it has not snowed. This year it was just cold.

The conference has a three year ‘curriculum’, meaning that every fourth year they begin to cover the same themes again. I am now a ‘graduate’, and the four of us who gained that elevated status this year were each presented with a carved Santa Fe angel figure. I am grateful for that, but much more for the knowledge gained, fellowship shared, and fresh energy received for the calling to be an effective seminary president.

Near the end a group of us asked ourselves, “What was your ‘aha’ moment of the conference?” That kind of question does not always have a clear answer. Sometimes there is an overall benefit without one moment as a highlight. I suspect that was true for me.

Yet there was one point that made me think in a new way. One session was on ‘Self Care for the President’, wonderfully led by someone who had been through the good and bad times. He talked about physical, mental, social and spiritual health, and said, “We owe it to our students, trustees, colleagues and to the wider church to be well in order to do the job to which we have been called.”

Somehow I had never thought about rest, exercise, diet in those terms. I have never believed that work must be 24/7; I’ve seen what that does to people and it is not glorifying to God. But there has always been my own drive to make things happen, and perhaps a fear of letting others down if I take too much time away from work. It had never occurred to me I could let others down by not taking time away from work. Of course, the potential to fail others goes beyond colleagues to family and friends, people to whom God has also given me a calling.

I know I am far from alone with my failings. All of us who care about our calling, about our work, can get to a place where life is in imbalanced, and we are too tired to take exercise or too stressed to watch our diet. In the short term some of that is almost inevitable, but when it becomes a normal way of life we get into trouble. I sometimes joke that I am healthier than I should be, but that should not be a joke. We do not live to be healthy, but the reality is that we may not live long if we are not healthy.

Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a Scottish preacher greatly used by God in a revival in the early 1840s. But he became exhausted and then very sick. As he lay dying, he is quoted as saying God had given him a message to deliver and a horse with which to deliver it, but alas he had killed the horse (his own body) so could no longer deliver the message. He was just 29.

Work for God is usually more of a marathon than a sprint. I believe the conference speaker was right in saying we owe it to others to be fit for the work to which we have been called. That is true for every person; it includes me. I guess, then, I have a New Year’s resolution. This is too important to be just an empty moment of wishful thinking; it has to mean accepting a new and higher level of discipline as one of the terms of the calling on my life.

I am not alone in needing to hear that conference speaker’s words about what we owe those who depend on us fulfilling our callings from God.

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LaVaye Billings on Jan 26, 2011 7:56pm

Sir, My husband is 82, and I am 78; We are still active in many areas: my husband still teaches as a substitue 3- 0r 4 days a week. Cares for an absentee owner for an Old Manor here in Central TX, and has 55 goats or more, that he calls his friends. They actually know the sound of his old vehicle when he comes to feed them. He golfs about three times a week, too. But he is beginning to admit that he must stop some of this. His life was in athletics, and he earned a Doctrate from IU with a major in HYPER. We raised four children of our own, and several that fell through the cracks. I taught school for 26 years, too. We all were very active in our Church Life. So we were extremely busy. ----- I have been trying to get him to slow down for a few years , but until this week he has not been able to even admit that he needs too. It appears to me, that men more often than women, have a need to excel at the expense of what is reasonable for their bodies.
My final written statement on your article, is that all of us as true Christians, must remember the most vital thing we can do, is to spend quiet time in prayer, & in the Word of God. He will so refresh our souls, bodies, and spirits. We will truly radiate His love as we go about doing the work at hand! Thank you, L.B.

Alistair Brown on Feb 11, 2011 2:21pm

Thank you for your comment. Everyone who reads it will be thinking, “I hope I am so active when I am 82 or 78!” I certainly hope I am golfing three times a week at that age. The goal – achieved by only a few – is to score less than my age. It may require me still to be playing until I am at least 100. I have to admit that you may be right that men often work at the expense of their health. I have known of ‘well woman’ clinics for a long time, but almost never of ‘well man’ clinics. It is said women give thought to maintaining their health, while men work their bodies until they break down and then hope they can be mended. Perhaps these days both genders are becoming equally guilty of neglect. But at least some are realizing the frantic pace of life is neither sensible nor God’s will. And your reminder at the end about ensuring there is quiet time with God is very appropriate too. God demands first place, not the left overs of our day.