After a decade in full-time ministry I can say that I’m worn out. Some of you reading this chuckle and say, “Wait until forty years in, kid!”
After five years of Campus Ministry in Cincinnati, and five a Senior Minister, I’d like to think I know what I’m doing. Truth is, I have no clue. I most likely never will. I’ve come to terms with that.
I had a stellar education at Ohio Valley University. As far as I’m concerned, there isn’t a better Bible program in the world. I knew how to study and interpret Scripture. I knew how to exegete a passage. I knew Greek and Hebrew. I could write thirty pages on 1 Peter 3:21.
Then there’s the career readiness part: I knew how to type a resume. I had a ministry portfolio. I knew how to network. I had my heretic detector installed. I could smell a false prophet long before I ever saw them. I had audio recordings of my sermons.
I had knowledge.
Yet, I found something lacking when I left the ivory towers of academia for the local church. I found that I could use those skills I had acquired to teach and preach. I could explain the Word. I could recite the passages.
But, I couldn’t rest in God.
In ministry, we read blogs about burn-out. There are volumes of information on it. Blogs, books, and podcast reveal how to recognize it. They tout remedies on how to help someone going through it. You know, like, how smelling essential oils aids the Holy Spirit to work in you through you. How, you ask? They induce a nostalgia trip to the corner of Old Narthex and Potato Salad Potluck. It’s the scent of the color Church of Christ Brown. I digress.
The information is there. What isn’t there is the application.
The Apostle Paul writes,
We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. – 1 Cor. 13:12, MSG)
We have moments of clarity – when the fog lifts -AFTER we’ve gone through something. So it is with us who labor for Christ. We get caught up in our knowledge and how much we can care for others. We pride ourselves in providing an open door every day of the year. We work every day.
We’re in the trenches. We’re fighting demons. We’re pulling people out of gutters. We’re traveling the globe to tell about the new Kingdom that Jesus purchased. We’re in the hospice rooms with the dying. We’re cramming our sermon and lesson prep in when we should be sleeping. We are the servants of the servants of God.
We are on empty. I am on empty. Our families are on empty.
While we preach and teach. While we serve and pour out our lives. While we miss first birthdays and family gatherings to be with the ones who are in the valley of death. While we get called back early from the vacation we’ve scrounged and saved for years.
We’re in Children’s Hospital pleading with God that a three-year old boy won’t die. And then, weeping in the parking garage for half an hour until we regain some semblance of composure. We’re burying people in baptism and then burying others in the cemetery.
We’re the first in line to get yelled at by parishioners. We watch as our families take bullets from bitter, hurting members. We get the anonymous letters full of vitriol on Monday mornings.
Our lives are a bi-polar, manic depression inducing roller coaster ride.
We. Are. Spent.
But let us not fall into Satan’s pity party. Let us not shy away from hard work and self-discipline. Let us not run because we’re tired, but tire because we had the audacity to run. If we trust Scripture, we know it tells us that God will renew our strength and we will not fall or grow tired.
We absorb some of the most vile things in this world. We see evil first-hand in the hearts of our brothers and sisters. We see sin and addiction ruin lives. We see unimaginable loss. We experience the emotions of those we help.
We are burden-bearers.
But what a beautiful thing it is. That’s why we don’t lose our heart. That’s why we don’t need self-help, but God help. We enter into the sacred spaces between eternity and mortality. We see the transformation of people who we’d discounted or judged out of the church. We see the Spirit changing the hardened hearts of the staunchest members. We experience Him chipping away at ours.
Let us not forget, then, that though we are in this beautiful mess, it is not a dark one. Let us not forget that we are not to rely on our power and strength, but on His. Let us not forget that God is our refuge, our strength, our shield. Let us not sit on His throne.
Let us not rest in our abilities or our skills. Our communication and our preparation. Our wisdom and our knowledge.
Let us go to our Burden-Bearer. Let us approach our Prince of Peace. Let us rest in Emmanuel.
Let us sit with our family as we thank God for the simple moments of love. Let us celebrate with our members when they trust God in areas that are tough. Let us mourn with those who are suffering. Let us feel what those who are mentally hurting feelings. Let us run the race. Let us have the wisdom to speak life, not death. Let us be able to say, “no” to some things.
But, Lord, let us not… Please God… Let us not think we the hero of the Story.
We are standing on the shoulders of those who went before us. We are planting and watering. Someone else will reap the harvest. Let us not think we are indispensable and irreplaceable. Father, let us know that you are… And let that be enough for our tired bones. Let us not give up, no matter what.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. – Ps. 4:8
I’m worn. But I’m not finished. Neither are you. Have some courage. And for the love of God, sleep and love your family.
You and I are a mist… But God adores and loves us. He has called you to this. He has given you everything you need to run the race. So run. The world is counting on you.