Ministry burnout; despair; discouragement. This 3-headed monster and its ugly cousins usually come visit me when I ponder how much “bad” is out there in contrast to my ability to do anything about it. The Bible commands me to do something about it, but that can’t mean I’m to live in debilitating despair, right? Because as a competitor, it certainly feels like my team is losing. These are easy topics to preach sermons on, but much more challenging to internalize at the core of our being. The following four points have been given to me recently by people who have been on this road much longer than me and I hope they help you at the soul-level the way they have helped me:
1. Pray that God will raise up the Church
I’m not in this alone. There is massive need out there. Tons of people who don’t know Jesus. And tons of people enduring incredible suffering. Jesus didn’t say to his disciples, “Go and glean the entire harvest” in Matthew 9:37-38 and Luke 10:2, he said “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (italics added). God didn’t leave the world with me as its hope to bring it the good news of the Kingdom, he left it with his Church! I’m not talking about apathetic laziness, waiting for others to do what I’m supposed to do. I’m talking about realizing which is the better hope for my low-income neighborhood to find Jesus’s Kingdom: me working 5x harder than I currently am, or me staying faithful in small ways and praying that God will either raise up 5 more Christians from within the neighborhood to help me and/or have them move in from outside. Me thinking it’s my job to reach the whole city or praying that God will raise up dozens of churches to reach the whole city. I can lose sleep over the sex trafficking industry, gang violence, drug use, global poverty and oppression as well as the many unreached countries of the world…or I can pray for them! Praying that God will bring a revival to his Church, sending out many into the local harvest fields that are ripe for picking.
2. Remember the Holy Spirit is in charge of the Church and Jesus promises the gates of hell won’t prevail against it.
I’m not in charge of the Church, the Holy Spirit is. Pressure off. Do you remember Pentecost? Prior to this event, Jesus told his disciples not to do outreach (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4) until the Holy Spirit came. The gathering of believers wasn’t enough; the Holy Spirit was and still is needed. What a relief to know that the Holy Spirit is not only guiding me, but that I’m a small part of a huge body and the Holy Spirit is guiding and empowering the entire thing.
3. Don’t let condemnation rule over you
Romans 8:1 is so clear and beautiful: there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Again, easy to preach, hard to internalize. What’s helpful to remember is whenever you are feeling inadequate, you know that message of condemnation is from Satan and you can reject it. You are fully adequate based on what Jesus did for you on the cross (Colossians 1:22, et al). Satan wants us to think our adequacy comes from producing results for God, so when we see the suffering or we see those who are lost, we feel like it’s our fault or we haven’t done enough (bringing despair, burnout, discouragement).
4. Don’t create a new “Law” to be enslaved to
This is closely related to #3. Jesus went through a whole lot to free us from the power of the law (Galatians 2:21; Gal. 5:4). The law enslaves. You can never do enough under the law because you can always do better and be better than what you’ve done. When you translate this to a zeal for ministry, there is always more ministry to be done! More people to reach, more people to help. Ministry can be a very subtle slave-master. Under grace, we abide relationally in Jesus (John 15) and we stay faithful to him, one small day at a time, one small interaction at a time. The point isn’t results, it’s faithfulness and abiding. If we believe that this isn’t enough, we’ve believed the lie that Law will bring us life. Reject this and cling to grace. As you share the message of grace to the world, live in the grace that all that is needed has already been done on the cross. Reject any message that what you already have in Jesus isn’t enough!