I was having dinner with some friends I just met the other night and we began talking about my ministry and some of the assignments the Lord has given me in the past. I guess something about the nature of what I was doing elicited this question from them: “Did you ever get burnt out at all?” I looked at them plainly and said, “No.”
There was a mutual shock. On one hand, they were slightly surprised that I would say ‘no’ to be burning out. But for me, I was shocked that they would expect someone to be burnt out from serving the Lord!
Then I realized that this was not good. I quickly shared some things about why I never was burnt out, but after some more thought, I realized that this seems to be representative of a greater problem I’ve seen in my years serving in ministry.
Burn out. Weariness. Spiritual Exhaustion. These are words that describe some workers in the kingdom of God. Some describing lay leaders, some describing pastors and full-time ministers. And, of course, they are not good words, nor are they good conditions to be to finding yourself in.
The solution is not drawing people back from ministry. That’s like saying we need to just drive the car less so the car will continue to go. In this analogy, the problem is not the car, it’s the fuel. People aren’t being equipped with the right power to do ministry. What then is the secret for not being in the category of people who face this?
Allow me to share the ‘secret’ to never being burnt out. (And when I say “allow me,” I am thinking of how thankful I am for these lessons the Lord has given me, not a boast of me.)
The secret to why I’m never burnt out serving God is because… serving God isn’t the most important thing in my life.
It just isn’t. If I had a life priority list, serving God would not be number #1. If I looked at the list of things I do on a weekly basis, serving God is not the thing that sticks out to me. When I plan things day-to-day, serving God is not ranked up there.
It isn’t and it shouldn’t be.
The most important thing in Phil’s life is loving and knowing God. I know that’s the right answer because that’s the answer Jesus gave when someone asked him what the greatest commandment is in Matthew 23. He didn’t say…’serving God’ or ‘serving in this ministry’ or ‘working at this church’. He was blunt and plain, so don’t miss it- The most important thing in the life of a believer is to know and love God.
I find that people who get burnt out get those two confused: Serving Jesus and knowing Jesus. That’s also exactly the difference between Mary and Martha in Luke 10. One wanted to work for God, one wanted to worship God. And Jesus commended Mary for choosing what was better. (Here’s a hint: Not working for God!)
I also find that people who get burnt out think that the highest and greatest experience they’ll get with God is in serving God. So, they spend all their energies and their times into their ministries. For sure, the Lord meets them there. At that meeting, at that conference, on that team, on that ministry, etc. But soon, they find that the fringes of His presence was insufficient for continual zeal for Jesus. They didn’t draw any strength from serving, they only spent it.
The position of being a servant didn’t garner enough intimacy with Jesus. Well of course not, what servant does? As Jesus explained in Luke 17, servants only serve. And after they’re done, they only say ‘we have our duty’. That’s true… and we should see ourselves like that when we serve Jesus, BUT…Jesus doesn’t see our primary identity as servants. If he did, we’d be serving God forever and ever in the new kingdom, and that is not what we’re doing…
Lastly, I find that that people who get burnt out don’t seriously place loving Jesus as their highest priority. Or they know that in what they say, but lack real application for being fleshed out in their lives.
Let me explain what I mean by that with an example from my own life.
Praise night 2010 at a college fellowship. The Spirit was banging, working like crazy, changing people’s lives, and I was their guest speaker for their night. Do you know what my favorite time of that night was?
No, it wasn’t preaching (though, that was unbelievably blessed). No, it wasn’t encouraging/praying for brothers and sisters afterwards (even though that was awesome too). It wasn’t even the fact that I was part of a super-blessed Holy-Spirit-filled night.
My favorite part of that night was 11:30pm when I went home alone, opened my Bible, got on my knees, and opened my heart to Jesus. That was my favorite part of the night.
That’s because my reward for that night isn’t a successful praise night. My reward wasn’t Holy-spirit-filled preaching. My reward wasn’t even fellowship with believers. The greatest reward was….Jesus Himself! Me spending time again with Him in that secret place was the best part of the night.
And that was what it was like for the rest of my night- just Jesus and me. Talking to him, thanking him, praying to him, worshipping him, hearing from him, being intimate with him, lavishing on him, loving Him.
Loving him is my reward. It’s the ends of ministry, not the other way around. We don’t love Jesus in order to do ministry. That’s idolizing ministry. We love Jesus to love Jesus, and we do ministry because we love Jesus.
And so, this is why I never get burnt out from ministry.
Nothing gets in the way of loving Jesus. If I was super busy and I had no time, sorry, I’m not taking your call. I love you, but you’re not the most important in my life. Ministry time does not supersede Jesus time. If I am not devoted to loving Christ on a daily basis, everything and everyone else needs to be on pause.
You think that’s selfish. I think that’s being obedient.
Trust me, I’m a much better preacher, much better pastor, much better lover, much better servant when it is this way. And if you’re in ministry, you’ll be 100 times better at whatever you’re doing when you get this priority down and get an action plan for loving that man Jesus.
And pretty soon, you’re going to find that your reservoir for serving Jesus is infinitely deeper. That’s because the reservoir you’d be serving from is Jesus’ love. And we all know that’s a pretty stinkin’ deep well.
(For more on this, please refer to “Lovers Versus Worker“)