Survival Habits for the Soul
“Ambition is a good thing, but when we start to feel the pressure to achieve things in order to feel that we’ve done enough or are good enough, it can become a burden,” said Ken Shigematsu, the opening speaker at Inspire 2022. “Tonight I want us to explore how we can live a life of significant contribution and achievement – not out of an anxious need to prove that we are enough, but out of a deep-seated gratitude that we are loved.”
Shigematsu is the senior pastor of Tenth Church in Vancouver, B.C., and the award-winning best-selling author of God in My Everything and Survival Guide for the Soul. He spoke on Aug. 4, 2022, at the Tinley Park (Ill.) Convention Center to about 420 Inspire 2022 participants.
“I have been inspired by Inspire 2022. It wasn’t what I expected,” he said when he first took the stage following a robust time of worship. “My wife, Sakiko, and I are a little bit familiar with the Reformed church. We pictured it a little more stoic and weren’t expecting that spirited gospel music. We’ve been moved to tears already.”
The theme for Inspire 2022 was “Inspired to Be One” and is based on Jesus’ petition in John 17:20-21: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Over the course of three days, Inspire attendees from Christian Reformed congregations across North America worshiped and fellowshipped together as they gained ideas, energy, and excitement for doing ministry in their local contexts. As the opening speaker, Shigematsu was asked to speak about the CRCNA’s first “milestone” of its ministry plan, called Our Journey 2025. This milestone focuses on cultivating practices of prayer and spiritual discipline.
“Spiritual practices and a desire for unity go hand-in-hand,” said Shigematsu. He explained that studies have shown that if we look at photograph of a stranger that we have nothing in common with, the compassion circuits in our brain will not engage, but if we add just a sentence or two to explain that picture and it shows that we have something in common with the person in it, those compassion circuits will light up. Spending time in prayer and spiritual disciplines centers us on God’s deep love for us, and that is something we all have in common, he said.
Shigematsu framed his talk on the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
A yoke was commonly placed on an ox to make it easier to pull a heavy load. Shigematsu explained that, like an ox, many of us are weighted down by challenging burdens. We worry about finances and the health of our loved ones. We have anxieties and concerns about many things. We also may carry an especially heavy burden of wondering if we have achieved enough.
Because it is possible for us to rise professionally and socially, we set goals for our achievement and can feel like a failure when we don’t reach them, said Shigematsu. What’s more, once we reach those goals, we often move the goalposts, wanting more.
But Jesus’ words in Matthew 11 invite us to take his yoke and ease our burdens.
“The yoke that Jesus wants us to wear is the one that he himself wore. And that yoke is the unrelenting love of his Father. When we wear the yoke of the Father’s love across our shoulders, it will change the way we move through the world,” Shigematsu said.
Shigematsu shared a few examples of spiritual practices that he uses to help keep him focused on God’s love for him. This includes daily meditation, daily prayers of gratitude reflecting on two or three specific things that he is grateful for, and taking a Sabbath rest for at least 24 hours once a week.
“Our sense of being enough isn’t something we achieve; it is something we receive,” he said. “Part of what Sabbath reminds us of is that we are not defined by what we do but by the simple and glorious fact that we are beloved sons and daughters of God.”
By implementing these and other spiritual practices, Shigematsu said, we can put aside our anxieties and burdens, and we can instead rest on our unity in being children of God.
Wrapping up, he said to all the CRC ministry leaders gathered at Inspire, “Give your very best – not out of an anxious need to validate yourself, but out of a deep place of gratitude that comes from knowing you are already accepted and cherished by the one who matters most.”