“What do you do?”
This is one of those conversations that I dread as a minister. Typically, it happens on airplanes. It is one of those introductory questions that fellow seatmates ask to pretend we want to get to know one another. We’re all on this flight together, so we might as well be chummy.
If I answer the question honestly, one of three things typically occurs. Usually, the person instantly mumbles something and then becomes overly interested in their magazine or music and then wonders if I’ll judge them for ordering alcohol. Sometimes they will begin to tell me about their experiences with church, good or bad, and I’ll never have to say another word. Other times, the individual then proceeds to tell me their entire life story with every nuance and heartbreak and letdown … and I begin wondering when I will get to become overly interested in my magazine or music.
“What do you do?”
This question is often on the minds of many church members, as well. Some think their minister only works for an hour on Sunday. Others think the job mostly entails being at the golf course. Some wonder why you can’t just drop everything to attend to their every need and whim. I mean, it’s not like you have anything BETTER to do.
“What do you do?”
Sometimes it is on our own minds. What do you do …?
- When the church member is suicidal?
- When that member’s marriage is imploding and you don’t know how to help?
- When you feel like you never get to spend time with your family because you are always taking care of others?
- When the church seems visionless and you don’t know where to turn?
- When you feel like you are too busy doing good things to do the best thing?
You aren’t sure where to turn or how to move forward. What should I do? What would be best? Do I get involved or do I not? Can I let anything drop and, if so, what can be let go right now? What might happen if …?
“What do you do?”
If I am honest with myself, it is sometimes on my mind personally. For me, it often takes the form of, “What difference do I make?” Am I really impacting people, drawing them closer to God? Am I really making a difference? Would I be doing better if I simply went and did something else, ministering on the side? Is there anything that might make me feel like I have more significance in my life?
I don’t want to downplay the significance of those questions. Most ministers feel them from time to time, and some wonder about it all of the time. It is possible you need to dwell in those questions and take a real look at your life and ministry.
Something I have noticed in myself is that those personal questions often signify that my priorities are out of alignment. Those questions are really all about me: what makes me happy, what makes me feel fulfilled, what makes me feel important or significant, what I can do or accomplish. Oftentimes they are far more about me and very little about God.
Sometimes our discontentment reminds us that we are actually practicing a form of idolatry. We are putting ourselves in the place of God. It is about what we can (or can’t) do, what we can (or can’t) accomplish, what matters most to us. Pride isn’t just about arrogance; sometimes it is simply the idea of reflecting so much on yourself or the things of your life that you neglect the things of first importance. “You shall have no other gods before me.”
For St. Augustine, this is the disordered life. We have prioritized ourselves ahead of God, which leads to a sense of restlessness and uneasiness. He begins his work Confessions with that statement: “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” 
So what do you do? How do we begin to move past this self-idolatry and allow God to reorder our life and priorities?
Something that has been helpful for me is the idea of centering prayer. According to Adele Calhoun, centering prayer is “a form of contemplative prayer where the pray-er seeks to quiet scattered thoughts and desires in the still center of Christ’s presence.”  In essence, it is finding our rest in God alone.
So … what do you do?
Typically, I try to set aside ten to fifteen minutes. I sit in a comfortable position, but not too comfortable. I often turn off the lights so I won’t be distracted, and then I remind myself that I am in the presence of God. I will often find a phrase to reflect on; one of my favorites, for personal reasons, is, “Peace! Be still!” (Mark 4:39). But any word, phrase, or idea that reminds you of God’s presence and love can be helpful. I use this to guide my attention back to God (and not to grow too sleepy!). I try to quiet my mind of all of the distractions, worries, cares, and concerns that flood my mind and soul.
I come with no agenda, nothing to prove and nothing to bring … nothing except being in the presence of God. It helps me remember that I should have no other gods except God. Not my own search for significance, not my own desires or dreams, not my own wishes or wants, not my fears or frustrations. Not even the worries, cares, concerns, or needs of my ministry. Those things might be important, but centering prayer reminds me of what is MOST IMPORTANT: being in the presence of God, because my heart is restless until it finds rest in God alone.
 Augustine, Confessions
 Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, 207.