Every once in a while this blog lines up really closely with where I’m at in life, and as we enter into our fifth week in the book of Luke that’s what is happening. We’re still in chapter 5, and Jesus’ ministry has gotten underway. He heals a man, and despite Jesus’ wishes, news of it spreads.
Luke 5:15-16 But despite Jesus’ instructions, the report of his power spread even faster, and vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.
I’ve always been incredibly fascinated by the many times that Jesus heals someone but implores them to not go and tell the whole world about it. I’m equally fascinated by the fact that almost every time, the people ignore Jesus and go about shouting and telling the whole world about what just happened. But as I was studying this verse it illuminated something that I see plaguing a lot of modern churches, and that’s the over-extension and exhaustion of not only our leaders, but all of God’s faithful people.
If you research topics like “pastor burnout” you’ll find some statistics that are shocking. Stress, depression, isolation, relational strain, feelings of unworthiness, and ultimately burnout are the norm. One study I read stated that 1500 pastors leave ministry each month due to burnout or some sort of moral failure.
I’m sure what you’re saying right now is “I’m not a pastor”, but I really feel like the word today isn’t just for pastors. It’s for anyone who is doing any sort of ministry for God. Ideally, that would be every single believer, as we’re all called to be active ambassadors for Jesus wherever we go. That can take on a lot of different forms depending on who you are, your gifting, and the opportunities available around you. If we’re operating at the level at which we’re all called, some form of ministry is going to be a big part of our lives. Jesus is to be our model for life, and Jesus dedicated himself fully to teaching people about God and displaying God’s goodness and power to the world.
I find myself at a place in life where balance is a word I’m having to confront. There seem to be more things I need/want to do in a day than there are hours in the day. I’ve pruned the wants back a few times, focusing more on the needs, and God’s been faithful in bringing me fulfillment and joy in return for those sacrifices. Most of the time I find that what I was calling a “want” was just an unhealthy distraction in the first place. But I still sometimes find it difficult to balance ministry commitments, discipling activities, relationships, church, personal Bible study, Bible writing, my more than 40 hours a week career, my nephews, my friends, my hobbies, and the occasional desire to do something fun. And in this category of people who seem to be stretching themselves thin, I’m a bit of a lightweight! I’m surrounded by people who do even more than I do, and most of them have a family to go along with their jobs and many ministry/church commitments. There are a lot of people who are taking a huge amount of tasks and responsibilities onto their shoulders for the kingdom of God. I used to admire it, but now I’ve started to wonder just how wise it is.
Luke 5:16 16 But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.
I believe it’s clear that through his actions we see that there was a tangible, real, physical limit to how much Jesus could take on and effectively teach. He OFTEN withdrew to get alone and to pray. Another word for often is frequently. Jesus frequently withdrew to the wilderness to pray. And so my question becomes this. How frequently are those of us who serve God withdrawing to the “wilderness” to pray? How often are we getting away from it all and resting and recharging? Can you honestly say you’re doing it frequently? I know I certainly can’t, at least not at this time in my life.
Jesus models for us the perfect ministry, and it included frequent breaks. And yet we, in all our infinite wisdom and power, just push on through exhaustion, through sickness, through dry periods, and it’s so foolish because here Jesus shows us what is necessary to be an effective minister, and that’s frequent rest and alone time with God!
Matthew 11:28-30 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
I guarantee you, the 1500 pastors who leave the ministry each month don’t feel like the yoke was easy to bear and the burden was light. The people who serve in four different areas of the church because there’s no one else who will step up and help probably aren’t feeling particularly rested.
There’s a pretty important list in the Bible called the 10 Commandments, and one of them is to remember to observe the Sabbath day (Exodus chapter 20). The sabbath is a day set aside for rest, for spiritual and physical recharging (sounds a lot like what Jesus would do on his frequent wilderness outings). Jesus healed a man on the sabbath once, angering the religious elite of his day, but I believe Jesus still observed this commandment in spirit, and he goes out of his way to encourage us to follow the 10 Commandments in Matthew 19.
You’ll find a hundred different schools of thought on the sabbath commandment. Personally, I’m guilty of breaking that commandment every single week, without a doubt. That’s scary to me, but what’s even more scary is that the Christian faith can’t even seem to agree what it means to follow the sabbath or if we even need to worry about it. I’ll tell you this, though, I wouldn’t be nearly as worried about balance if I spent more time resting and recharging physically and spiritually. I believe it’s true for all of us. If we had more time set aside to mirror Jesus and get alone with God for prayer and recharging, we’d operate at higher levels of power, and we’d experience less burnout, weariness, and stress.
I want to encourage anyone reading this to prayerfully consider the balance of your life. God needs energetic, inspired, passionate people to carry out His missions here on earth. You can’t be those things when you’re exhausted. Maybe your problem isn’t that you’re doing too much for God, but that you’re doing so much else that you’re not leaving any room to do anything for God. Regardless, this is for you, too. Jesus is our example, and Jesus frequently got away from it all so he could pray and be alone with God. He emphasized balance. Find out what that looks like for you, and give it a chance to transform your situations.
I love all of you. I really feel like God is calling for me to pray peace over people this week, I think He just wants to visit a special peace on us this week, so take that prayer and receive it. If you have any prayer requests or just wanna talk, my email is always open at firstname.lastname@example.org