As I drove to a three-day training event on Monday, I figured it would generally be attended by older pastors.  What I was not really expecting is that I would be the oldest among the 20.  However, by at least a year or two, I was!

Were they teaching us “new tricks”?  They definitely were not tricks – rather very real and practical skills.  And, while they did a great job of putting a variety of things together in some very helpful ways, many of the skills I had learned over 20 years ago.

And it certainly did provide opportunity for some interesting conversations.  One guy I met is a prison chaplain who loves history.  He was filled with fascinating information, statistics, and stories.  Did I mention he had a military background?  Another one pastors an inner city church that has been through at least six crises in his eleven years – and the congregation is stronger, and more united and focused upon mission than ever before.

One re-emphasized take-away for me was the little line “Giving care to others starts with taking care of yourself.”  One pastor sets aside one day every 12 weeks to do nothing but meditate, pray, and think.  He counts it as a workday because this work he does on himself makes his ministry much more effective and efficient in the 12 weeks that follow.  In a month or so I will spend a few days raking leaves at the cottage – the time will serve the same purpose for me.

Unfortunately, many times our minds say, “what is worth doing is worth over-doing.”  While many overdo by becoming workaholics, it is just as easy for one to become obsessive with selfcare.  Physical fitness, diet, and yes, even meditation and prayer can become so all-consuming that we forget the purpose behind it all – that of being able to care for others over the long haul.

Pace and priorities also are important parts of the equation.  While in my younger years a few people referred to me as the “energizer bunny” I can certainly tell you that my pace necessarily has slowed down.  However two priorities that I focus upon have not changed.  One is how my day begins and ends with Jesus-time.  In the morning this involves “holy conversation” where I read his word and prepare for my day through prayer.  At night it means falling asleep with my closing prayers.  The second priority comes in a simple statement: “The most important thing a father can do for his children is love their mother.” … But don’t let me fool you into thinking I am 100% successful in these areas … that’s why Psalm 51 is part of my daily prayers.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.  Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn to you.” (Psalm 51.10-13)

Early in Ecclesiastes Solomon writes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1.9) Two chapters later is when the more famous section begins with “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; …” (Ecclesiastes 3.1-5)

So, whether you are an old dog like me or a young pup, a great prayer for every age (and day) is “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’  My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!  Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love!” (Psalm 31.14-16)

Old Dogs