From Roy’s journal during stage-four lung cancer:
“A significant mind shift happened this week. Margaret and I were walking, and as usual, she was thinking ahead of me. She asked me what my plans were for getting stronger and healthier. By the next day, I determined that I’d been operating in survival mode. It was time to move into thriving mode. I’m just about finished with a written plan with goals for daily steps, strength training, weight gain, etc. that will clearly move me from surviving to thriving! Early this week, I had several 7000+ step days—woohoo! Even so, we are both aware that it will be a while before I return to full strength.”
Roy and I (this is Margaret now) both began to pray and think a lot more about what thriving looked like, especially with our new normal in terms of his health and a global pandemic. During a job transition a few months prior to this, we had taken some time off for retreat, refreshing, and to seek God’s direction for our future.
As we sought God’s direction, we felt that he impressed four words on our hearts: wait, abandon, overflow and impact.
We were led to Psalm 23, starting with verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” That sounded like life in abundance! As we sought God’s direction, we felt that he impressed four words on our hearts: wait, abandon, overflow and impact. We realize now these were not just for our new role, but for the rest of our lives, to help us live beyond just surviving. These words direct our steps, allowing us to live with great joy in the midst of some major trials and hardships: thriving and not just surviving.
We are learning that waiting is not passive, but very active. This is not an easy task for active leaders like us, focused on getting things done. When we wait and pay attention, our “doing” becomes empowered with his presence. Daily waiting upon the Lord “renews our strength” and allows us to “soar on wings like eagles” to move things forward (Isaiah 40:31).
When we slow our lives down enough to hear God’s guidance and agenda for our day, sometimes we find it’s quite different than ours. We always have a pen and notebook handy for those insights! We pray and ready ourselves for the fruitful, joy-bringing work he has in mind.
God wants us to walk with him, not ahead or behind.
Sometimes God calls us to longer periods of waiting and limited understanding as well—but as we seek him and immerse ourselves in his Word, we begin to experience his love and presence in greater and more precious ways. God wants us to walk with him, not ahead or behind. These longer waiting periods help us align our walks more closely with him and trust him more deeply. They bear most fruit as we spend time reflecting and watching expectantly for patterns, for signs, for him and his work.
Sometimes waiting is necessary to allow a blessing. With Roy’s cancer, if we had rushed into a treatment too soon, the “better” medicine that has extended his life wouldn’t have worked. We had no idea of that.
Our move from surviving to thriving requires us to continue to give up our agendas for God’s. God is sovereign. He is God and we are not! This sounds pretty obvious, but in countless moments, we catch ourselves trying to rule him instead of the other way around. Surely our way is the best! It is not. His way is always higher and better. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Suffering is an effective school for learning these things experientially. We are learning to ask God not how we can get out of it, but what we can get out of it. Embracing the reality of our losses and grieving them well seems to help us more strongly identify with Jesus, putting us in position to want him more. It has helped us on our journey toward making the concept of abandoning ourselves and our agenda to God an actuality (we still have far to go!). We can grow in our trust as we believe what he says and respond to it, or we can ignore that and become bitter, as we have seen a few do. That makes no sense to us, but we know that it sometimes happens. As we choose to believe and trust, God incredibly, graciously pours out his love in a myriad of ways, both directly and through his family of believers. But abandoning our way is a choice.
When we surrender daily, we can live free of fear, trusting his ways. Life revolves around him, not us. We should know that, but too often our impatience and frustrations arise because things are not the way we think they should be. If we choose to abandon a little more of ourselves and surrender to God’s ways, we make more room for him in our lives. We decrease, and he increases in us. We begin to thrive more deeply and are better able to partner with God in moving his kingdom agenda forward.
It’s too easy for leaders to work from full plates and empty cups. If you ask any of our friends, we are way too guilty of this! Our capacity is high enough; our “overflow” sometimes comes from our overloaded plates, not the cup that God wants to fill. “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:5)
It’s too easy for leaders to work from full plates and empty cups.
We have no one but ourselves to blame. We think we’ve learned about setting limits to keep our souls healthy, and then the daily demands of ministry and the speed of life just keep increasing. We extend the limits... and soon we have overflow in the wrong place! Again.
A blessing of the global pandemic (as well as some limitations resulting from the cancer) is that since we no longer commute, we have some extra time to spend daily with God. We are learning to say “no” a little more, and in the midst of this “slowed down” kind of life, we get to partner with God in doing even greater work than ever before. Our cups overflow with his presence and power. We’re learning to focus and prioritize to make sure it’s our cups—not our plates—that are overflowing.
As Christ-followers and leaders, we want our lives to have significant impact. This fruit-bearing, thriving life comes only from the abiding Jesus says so much about in John 15.
We have more impact when our lives incarnate his presence; so that others can “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). Fresh, juicy, red-ripe strawberries or plump, sweet, hand-picked peaches are hard to beat!
Our biggest problem with producing fruit? We really can’t make it happen; only God can. What we can do is nurture the right environment inside ourselves, which is really what we’ve talked about above: learning to wait, abandoning self, and operating from an overflow of God’s presence. We like to call this “inside-out” leadership.
Exodus 34:29 says, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai … he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” If our lives or ministry (our leading, our teaching, our speaking) shine in any way, it will because we have been abiding with God enough that his presence shines through us. It is God’s power, not ours, that will have the impact.
In the fast-paced world we live in, we must prioritize healthy rhythms. In addition to our daily times with God, we find we need a real Sabbath every single week, and to get away for a few days with God at least a couple times a year. This allows us to replace the messages and priorities the world wants to form in our hearts with the voice and truth of God and his kingdom.
We know from experience that thriving is much more than just surviving and continuing old patterns. It requires intentionality. What areas of your life need some intentional work? What will you do to lean into that?
Our prayer for you is found in Ephesians 3:18-19, that you might grow in power, “together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” In our minds, that’s thriving!
Roy and Margaret Fitzwater serve as Co-Executive Directors for The Navigators, TDC: Train – Develop – Care function. They bring a wealth of corporate and ministry experience to their role leading a department serving 3500+ U.S. Navigators. Contact us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.