Simone Biles is one of the greatest gymnasts in the sport’s history. She has six Olympic medals and peoples expected her to win six more in Japan in 2021. But she abruptly withdrew during the women’s individual all-around.

She said she experienced the “twisties.”

The “twisties” is a condition when all at once, in mid-air, the gymnast becomes dis-oriented. The athlete doesn’t know whether he or she is facing up or down. It could be a symptom of the brain dealing with stress.

Sound familiar at all?

I might have lived with the twisties. At worship as I would sit and look out over the congregation during the offering, I would jot down mental notes of members I definitely must visit this week: a widow, the guy leaning out of his marriage vows, the university student leaving for campus, the uncommitted neighbor headed for eternity without Christ. It was always an unreasonable list. Yet their uncomplaining faithfulness and my desire to be a true Pastor haunted me, night and day.

When I would be vising with them during the week, they would have only half my mind. The other half would be thinking that I should be back in my study, preparing for next Sunday. I couldn’t help formulating sermon content as I sat listening. Back in my study, I would be thinking of the people who needed pastoral care.

That all would be against the background of a dear and undemanding wife and five children (born within six years) who dearly loved me (and I them) and absolutely treasured the time we could spend together.

Sometimes I had a bad case of the twisties. What was up? What was down?

Pastoring is living on Simone’s balance beam. If your heart is in serving Jesus, try as you will, there won’t be enough hours in the day to embrace in a meaningful way all the opportunities to minister that come to us. Why is that Son of Man sleeping so soundly in the back of the boat during a fierce squall?

Are you experiencing “pastoral twisties” and not sure what end is up? Do you sometimes think about withdrawing?

I greeted my highly successful business-executive neighbor, “How you doing, Brian? Making it?”

He said instantly, “No way. Prevailing!”

Could that be your realistic answer about your ministering? Or are you just making it because you’re falling off the balance beam?

From time to time I have just been making it. Sometimes by being unprepared for Sunday. Sometimes by promising someone and not showing up. Sometimes by short-changing my dear wife and children. But often Jesus whispered the first of the four rules for cowboys: “When you fall off, git back on.” (For your information, the other three are: Never look straight up at a bird. Always drink upstream from the herd. Never squat with your spurs on).

In 61 years of Pastoring, I’ve been bone-tired, misunderstood, angry, tempted, stubborn, envious of other Pastors, seriously puzzled. But I never once thought of quitting. When I’d fall off, the Holy Spirit would give some pointers to “git me back on.

  • When Jesus accepts our offer to serve, He accepts us as is—not the ability and performance of someone across town. The key evaluation of our performance is not success or popularity or recognition or even excellence. It is faithfulness. (1 Corinthians 4:2) At the end He doesn’t say, “Well done, Household Name.” More often it is, “Well done, Unknown.” (Matthew 25:23)
  • Results are His responsibility. Our discouragement short-circuits His system. We plant and we water. He alone makes it grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6-9) We don’t see final results. Why would someone plant a century plant? In the story Jesus told, there was only a 25% response. (Mark 4:1-8) Remember Kenny Rogers? “They’ll be time enough for counting when the dealin’s done.” The seed we plant for Jesus is never wasted. (Isaiah 55:11) Elijah had a bad case of the twisties when he thought his ministry’s results were his. (1 Kings 19:10)
  • What would you rather do? Wire houses? Coach wrestling? Do lawn care? Teach at the university? Other careers can look simpler. But compared to pastoring? A 12-year-old girl and a 73-year-old husband and an 82-year-old single woman all said the same thing to me: “I’ve never told anyone else this before.” I can scarcely breathe. Me? Serving Him? Look back at that hospital visit; that round of golf; that youth meeting; that conversion.
  • Jesus knows. (Mark 3:20) Doesn’t that do it for you! He watches us juggle our schedules. He knows our intentions. Of course you want to deliver top-notch sermons after a week of extensive pastoral caring, while having shown your dear family all the attention and time they desire. You’re not sitting around planning how to goof off. Most of the time, the judges we fear don’t wear black robes. The only Judge that matters “understands every desire and every thought.” (1 Chronicles 28:9)
  • Jesus had His own agenda. “I must teach in other towns.” (Luke 4:42-43) We can plan selectively, too. Jesus had His own needs. The people wanted more “but Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16) We can recognize our needs, too. People know appointments with the dentist or the oil change come during certain hours. The 20-year alcoholic who calls at 3 a.m. and “mush she you,” can wait a while longer.
  • My family’s hunger for me is real. Date night(s); ball games, even travel teams; shopping; squabbles; school affairs; fixing things around the house; homework; hang time; it’s a long list. Jesus expected Pastors to have families. (1 Timothy 3:2, 4) He also expected family members to sacrifice desires. (Luke 14:26) Open discussion with our family and Jesus helps us manage the tension. (Philippians 2:4)
  • Is it time to re-calibrate? “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4) Given our dedication, it is easy to short-circuit the text. Am I really delighting in the Lord or actually delighting in the desires of my heart? When we broad-jump over the first part of the text we end up with the twisties. As best as you are able to be honest with yourself, right now, what are you delighting in? The person of our dear Lord, or the (ministry) desires of your heart? He loves it when you spend time with Him. (John 4:23)
  • We never minister alone. “Before I formed you, before you were born, I appointed you.” (Jeremiah 1:5) “Before I was born, the Lord called me.” (Isaiah 49:1) “This man is My chosen instrument to carry My Name.” (Acts 9:15). Not only that! “We are (re)created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) “Before day one, our whole life was laid out in Your book.” (Psalm 139:16) Brothers and Sisters, we can’t lose.

Oftentimes during these years I would say, “Jesus, this is all the Ren I know. I’m doing the best I know how. If this isn’t pleasing, I’ll be glad to serve you in any other way.” He hasn’t changed His call yet. I’m thankful.

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