Guarding Your Heart in Ministry

“We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). This is the Valentine’s Day message that Kristi wrote on the chalkboard in our powder room. It’s also the foundation of Gary Smalley’s talk on Guarding Your Heart in Ministry that we enjoyed together the day before Valentine’s Day. He taught on Jesus’ treasure principle: Whatever you treasure as valuable is where the affections of your heart will go (Matt. 6:21). “We are so valuable to Jesus and his Father!” Gary exclaimed. “We are so loved!”

“The essence of my life today is honor,” Gary continued. “We need to value people. The way to keep a friend is to honor them.” He’s practiced this in his marriage by making a list of as many reasons as he could think of as to why his wife Norma was valuable to him. He explained that treasuring her in this way helped him to deal with the ways that she irritates him!

Gary asked us, “Do you ever get irritated by a spouse or a friend?” If we’re honest, we all have irritations. This is especially true for pastors and ministry leaders. With a wry smile Gary said, “The fastest growing person is the one who is working in a church because churches have a way of beating you up! For instance, there is always that one person who sucks the life out of you.”

Yeah!! Irritations!!

“But irritation is a good thing,” Gary insisted. Then he pulled out a pom pom and began to cheer, “Yeah!! Irritations!!” We all laughed. “When was the last time you thanked your mate for irritating you?” he asked. “Maybe never. But irritations are helpful because they tell you how many logs you have in your eye and what kind. We all have flaws in our lives and its good to be aware of them.” (See Matt. 7:3-5)

Being married or in another close relationship will inevitably lead to stress, conflict, and hurt. That is our opportunity to learn about the areas that we need emotional healing or training in godliness. “I’m done trying to change my wife,” Gary concluded. “Now I only work on changing me.”

He proceeded to tell a story about how in his thirty’s a Christian leader really hurt him. It took him two years to forgive his colleague, but he said, “I’m so grateful that I went through that!” Then he got out his pom pom and began to cheer again! He was being sincere. “All the good things that God has allowed me to do in my ministry to couples and families came from this hurt.”

How Do You Deal with Irritations?

What helps you not to react in anger when you’re irritated by someone at home or church? What helps you to treasure and honor people, even those who irritate you? Jesus taught, “Bless those that curse you” (Luke 6:28). Do you know how to do that? Most of us do not.

Willpower is not enough to enable you to honor the people who irritate you. If you repress your anger and smile through gritted teeth your anger is sure to leak out or explode in ways that hurt people or it will cause you to become depressed. These are signs that we need help understanding and dealing with our emotions and that we need to be strengthened in our inner person by receiving divine nurture and compassion through a safe person.

Instead of just trying to change our behavior we need help becoming a different kind of person on the inside. The way to do this is learning to apply the wise dictum, “Don’t try — train.” Examples of training include targeting spiritual disciplines toward particular areas of sin or distress, participating in a support group, and consulting with a psychotherapist.

“We love because God first loved us.” When we reach out to someone from a broken or needy place and learn to agree with and internalize Love then it can flow readily out of us — even to those who irritate us.


Guarding Your Heart in Ministry by Gary Smalley on February 13, 2014 was sponsored by CIFT Counseling, a group of fifty Christian psychotherapists in Orange County, CA. Bill & Kristi Gaultiere are psychotherapists and co-founders of Soul Shepherding, a ministry to pastors and leaders. Bill is on the Board of Directors for CIFT. The quotes from Gary’s talk are based on Bill’s notes so they may not be Gary’s exact wording.

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