“Meaningful service can only follow genuine love for God. Love for Jesus, that intimate communion, is the foundation of the abundant life we long for. This is what Jesus was calling Peter back to, and it’s what he’s calling you into as well.” (The Treasure of Heaven)
Why is it that, so often, Christians get so burnt out in ministry? We work so hard to please God, doing things we’re sure he would want us to do, and wind up exhausted, frustrated, and in many cases, bitter or resentful. How does this happen? Jesus labored for three years straight, with 12 of the whiniest, most stubborn disciples to town after town of needy, ungrateful people and never seemed to experience such burn out. We know that he was “tempted in every way, just as we are,” but what kept him from burn out? What do I lack that I wallow in burn out so frequently? Grace.
Jesus lived in a life-giving cycle of grace that fed and empowered him to accomplish his mission in this broken, lost, and needy world. He achieved salvation through the significance of his life, which was grown through the sustaining relationship he had with his Father. That cycle of grace, however, did not start with Jesus’ achievements. It began with the acceptance of the Father.
At the onset of Jesus’ ministry, he was baptized. In that moment, a voice from heaven thundered, “This is my Son. With him, I am well pleased.” This assurance of the Father’s loving acceptance came again at the Transfiguration, and Jesus leaned on that acceptance during the Last Supper when he washed the disciples feet, as he knew where he came from, and where he was going. The unconditional love of the Father sustained him, led him into significance, and enabled him to achieve great and mighty things.
Our great struggle is that we can’t accept that the Father loves and accepts us. We need to be acceptable. We want to show God how good we can be, how strong we can be, how righteous we can be. We try to achieve things for God to please him so that we can be significant, find sustenance, and be accepted. We work the cycle backwards. We dress the part, use the right lingo, hang out with the right people, and have all the primary verses and passages memorized and yet something is still missing. Christian service is drudgery and we seem to become so utterly spent so quickly. Where is the joy? Where is the fulfillment? Where is the abundance Jesus promised? It’s like we’ve sacrifice ourselves on the altar of Christian service and Jesus hardly seems to notice. And like the rich young ruler in Matthew 19, we ask, “What do I still lack?”
It can be difficult for our minds to own the notion that God accepts us. If you have surrendered your life through faith in Jesus Christ to God, you are accepted. “What love the Father has lavished upon us that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1) You cannot impress God. Pleasing him is not about compiling victories and success and deeds, not at the expense of what matters most: your love for him. We might intellectually acknowledge grace-based salvation, but still live in works-based theology. When that happens, we tire because we are working in our own sense of right, our own wisdom and discernment, and out of our own strength. God becomes and unreachable goal rather than our Father and the lover of our soul.
Let yourself be loved. If you are facing burn out, take a Sabbath rest. By that I mean where heart, soul, mind and strength you take a time out and simply “be still and know that [He] is God.” Don’t exchange “spiritual” duties for “normal” ones. Let your emotions, your thoughts, your meditations, and your efforts/works rest in Christ. In vocational ministry we call this sabbatical. It requires you to remove distractions, silence the competition, and focus yourself on being in the presence of God. Let him love you unhindered and undistracted. Jesus did it.
We see throughout Jesus’ ministry that he would go off alone and pray. He took time out, at the expense of others, to be with the Father and commune with him unhindered. Jesus knew that was the only way he would be any real good to anyone. He commands the same from us. “Remain in me,” “let my words remain in you,” Abide in me,” “Come to me.” Do we think we are more capable than Jesus that we can skip the foundational cog in the cycle of grace? Rest in, and delight in, the simple yet powerful presence of God. Realize that he is near to you, and get to know, really know, his heart for you. Follow him, and stop trying to make your own way to please him. Be filled and empowered by His grace. “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). True, lasting, and meaningful service must flow from your intimacy with God. It will never lead to intimacy with God. We will never fulfill our God-ordained purpose if we lack the intimacy and grace of God.