Beep beep! Waaaa-waaa!
I was just drifting off to sleep the other night when my car alarm went off. I sighed. Not that again. Must be a cat or a fox that set it off. I trudged downstairs and went to turn it off. Next night, the same thing happened. Okay, fine. I need to turn off the audio part of the alarm, because this will eventually upset the neighbours. My indicator lights and sidelights can flash all they want. As long as I’m not aggravating these lovely people down the street!
They’re there for a reason. To warn us of danger. To tell us to pay attention.
You may have heard stories or seen videos of those unwise (I’m being polite here) people who zigzag their way round railway barriers. In some of the videos, they only just escape with their lives. In the really shocking ones, they don’t.
Didn’t they see the flashing red lights? Of course they did. They chose to ignore them.
On the night of 14 April 1912, the Marconi operators on the Titanic received no less than three warning messages from ships in the area. At 9.35pm, the steamer Mesaba sent a warning of “heavy pack ice and a great number of large icebergs.” The message never reached the bridge. At 11pm, Senior Marconi operator Phillips, under extreme stress, claimed he was too busy to pay attention to any more warnings from the Californian. Phillips told the Californian’s operator to “shut up, I’m busy!” At 11.30pm, a slight haze settled on the horizon, decreasing visibility. Five minutes later, the Californian’s operator, Cyril Evans, retired to bed. He never heard from Titanic again.
Warning signals. Oh the trouble we could avoid if we just paid attention to them.
Leaders have warning signals too.
The body has a pain system, designed to alert a person to danger. Yes, pain hurts, but without it, we would be in huge trouble. Indeed, when the brain fails to receive pain signals, awful things can happen. Those with leprosy, in particular, are prone to burn themselves, cut themselves, and develop sores. Quite often, amputation is the only way to save a person who has lost the ability to feel pain.
What about you?
Stress presents first in the body. It is critical to pay attention to the body. It is speaking to you. Loss of sleep, inability to concentrate, headaches, shortness of breath, muscle constriction, they are all signs that something isn’t right. We become stressed when the rhythm of our lives is out of kilter. We are not resting enough or we aren’t really resting when time is allocated to rest. We’re still checking emails, still scrolling.
We all have different personality types—some say they thrive under pressure—but at the very minimum, I appeal to you to pay attention to what your body is telling you.
Overworking, stressed out leaders tend to make excuses. The most common one is, “I don’t have a choice.” Instead of leading, they see their job as one long list of tasks. Services, meetings, decisions, more meetings. When challenged about the need to attend a meeting or lead a service, they reply, “But I have to. It’s expected. There’s no one else.” They’re not really leading at all, but struggling along, trying to survive.
If you make excuses to yourself about your lack of agency, then it’s a warning signal. It’s a warning that the job has imprisoned you and your life has become defined by a set of tasks. This lack of agency leads inevitably to the next warning signal.
LOSS OF JOY
The joy of the Lord is my strength. Rejoice in the Lord always, and I say again, rejoice! Joy isn’t a static emotion, but a glorious experience that comes from being known and loved by God. Joy emerges from knowing him. It fortifies the spirit. It is also a powerful weapon to counter fear. When we serve God joyfully, we are made free. Fear does not constrain and imprison the person who serves joyfully. Instead, joy liberates the soul. It puts wind in our sails and empowers us to serve freely and with a willing spirit. It is a gift from God, received gratefully.
Its loss is therefore a warning signal.
If you have lost your joy, or are in the process of losing it, then the warning lights are flashing. They are calling you to pay attention to what’s going wrong. To ignore these warning lights is like a cyclist who zigzags his way past the railway barrier.
It will not end well.
LOSS OF SPIRITUAL CONNECTION
What is life for, if not to love God and be loved by him? Overworking leaders begin to shortchange their times with the Lord. They begin to “dial in” their quiet times. Prayers become ritualistic and deep down, they know all is not right. Those good intentions to talk to someone are put on hold, because well, there’s so much to do. The ship slowly sinks even as the captain is pulling handles, ringing bells, and barking orders as loudly and as fast as possible. No captain can sail the ship when he’s on the verge of collapse.
How’s your walk with the Lord? Really. Only you will know if it has become a warning signal.
Overworking leaders become experts at giving the right answers to those who counsel them. Oh yes, our fraternal is excellent. A wonderful group of chaps! What’s wonderful is that they never actually ask difficult questions, and even if they do, the overworking leader has a ready answer to every one. Oh, he has fooled everyone.
Except God. He can fool himself, perhaps, but not forever. Eventually, the piper will call the tune.
The thing about warning signals is that they aren’t worth a dime if they’re ignored. How often, when we hear a car alarm, do we say “Oh, let’s make sure the car is safe”? Hardly ever. Routinely we conclude that the car is fine and the alarm is broken in some way. The alarm can be ignored.
I’m stressed, can’t concentrate. That’s just modern life. Making excuses? Not really. I just have a lot on my plate right now. That’s life. Loss of joy? Struggling to hear from God and feel his presence? Everyone knows our spiritual lives go through rough patches. That’s not a warning. A friend asking me awkward questions? I told him it’s all under control. Challenges, of course, but I can cope.
The warning signals are there—they’re flashing and beeping—but it’s just so easy to ignore them or switch them off.
How, then, we do install a warning system that actually works?
They once tried to install a pain system for the body using electric shocks and other technology to substitute for the body’s neural pathways. It was quite sophisticated. It would work until the subject decided that s/he would override the system. Even intelligent subjects would do it. Without actual pain, they would pick up boiling hot kettles without gloves or walk around on open blisters. It turned out that the pain system we have is the only one that works because it’s outside our control.
Which means you have to trust it. There’s a message in there, I think.
I wish I could finish off this post with some encouraging words about a warning system that is foolproof. I would love to tell you that there is a guaranteed way to save you from yourself. I’m sorry to report that I know of no such system.
Save you from yourself.
Sadly, we cannot save ourselves. And while we exercise free will, God will not step in to do it for us. As glorious as our Saviour is, he will not coerce us. He permits us to live with the consequences of our choices.
So I will simply reiterate the warning signals I’ve already listed.
Body. Please listen to your body. It is speaking to you.
Excuses. Only you will know when you’re making them. Ask a spouse or close friend, “Am I making excuses?” Then listen to their answer.
Loss of joy and loss of spiritual connection. Seek the Lord while he may be found. He is longsuffering and gracious. He answers those who call upon his name. But if you are experiencing a deep sense of joylessness, then please go and talk to someone.
Wise counsel. Be real. Take a good look in the mirror and come clean with those who love you. Stop the self-deception.
If you ever find yourself asking, “Are things really bad enough to warrant talking to someone?” I want to be absolutely clear. That is a warning as loud as a flashing red light at the railway crossing. It is the dog barking next door. It is the honking horn from the car behind you as you reverse towards its bumper!
If you’re asking the question, the answer is “YES!”
Please listen to the warning signals.
If you don’t have close friends nearby or you want to talk to someone outside your community, please get in touch with one of our Associates. They are ready to listen and pray.
The Lord bless you as you serve him today.