By: Jarod Grice
Feeling Burned Out
If you’re anything like me, you know what it feels like to be “burned out”. It’s an all too familiar experience for us all. You get excited about serving, rearrange your schedule so that you can faithfully and consistently give of your time, and begin serving with zeal, vision, and tenacity.
This new project quickly becomes all you ever talk about. However, it doesn’t take long before the steam you had been operating on begins to diminish. Your zeal becomes polluted with impatience. Your vision morphs into unmet expectations. Your tenacity wears away into exhaustion. You feel used, wasted, and, eventually, begin to question why you ever served in the first place. You are fast approaching a bonafide burnout.
Why is it so difficult to serve God’s family without eventually feeling wasted? Why does the zeal, vision, and tenacity for service so quickly wear off? Is it possible to serve the church without losing your soul?
In my own experience, the proclivity toward burnout can crop up in a variety of ways. Unexpected life experiences, mismanaged time, lack of clarity in expectations, etc can all leave us feeling burned out. However, exceptions notwithstanding, I believe this familiar burnout runs deeper than we think. The tendency toward burnout is often rooted in a misbelief of what it means to be a servant of Christ. If we are going to understand how to serve God’s church then we have to look at what scripture says about service.
You’re Never Not a Servant
Romans 6:17-18 says, “17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” Paul, the writer of Romans, is reminding the Roman Church that they were once “slaves of sin” and now they have become “slaves of righteousness”. The biblical understanding of slavery is more akin to servitude than chattel slavery. So, Paul is essentially saying, “Look, you’re always a servant of someone, and because of Christ you are now servants of Him instead of servants of sin.” We were designed to serve. It’s part of our DNA. Often, we think of serving as some optional activity we enter into, but scripture teaches something different. Scripture teaches that, because of our new identity in Jesus, we are called “servants of righteousness” which means that our energy, zeal, vision, wallets, and schedules are subject to serving Christ’s purposes.
We often approach serving from two motives: guilt or glory. We experience these motives on a spectrum. Sometimes we serve out of guilt: believing that if we don’t serve He won’t be pleased with us. Other times we serve for self-glory: believing that we deserve praise or recognition for the time we’re putting in. Of course our motives are rarely this black and white, but they are often situated somewhere on this spectrum of guilt and glory. Always being a servant means that our service is never motive-neutral; we’re always doing it for some reason. Therefore, being servants of Christ means that our motives are being transformed by the Holy Spirit; we serve to bring glory to Christ and to edify his people.
The Better Master
Many biblical scholars have noticed the book of Romans as a parallel to the Exodus Story. In the Exodus Story, Moses is sent by God to free the Hebrews from slavery under Egypt so they can freely worship their God and continue His purposes for them. The Hebrews were under captivity to Pharaoh in Egypt. They were overworked, underfed, and forced to collude with Egyptian idol worship. Therefore, by God freeing the Hebrew people from Pharaoh, he was bringing them under new leadership. He became their new master. Paul is therefore reminding the Roman church that they no longer are under the heavy burden of Pharaoh (sin) but have been brought under the easy yoke of Jesus (righteousness). Jesus is the better master.
He doesn’t ask us to perform or measure up with our service; he invites us to rest in his grace. He doesn’t pile on tasks that are impossible to perform; He patiently walks with us as we fumble through. He doesn’t overwhelm us with to-do lists and then scoff at our inadequate performance; He calls us sons and daughters who are totally approved of by our God (despite our failures). Never forget that as servants of Christ you are first and foremost sons and daughters working for your Father. He is pleased with you before you ever perform the work. He will never roll his eyes at how poorly you may perform, and He will never love you more because you accomplished the task well. As a servant of righteousness, we have been freed from serving on the spectrum and freed to serve for Christ’s glory.
Your Service Really Matters
Something servants hear far too little is that their service actually matters. This isn’t a pat-you-on-the-back kind of importance, but a tangible significance woven through every work you do. Let’s face it, there isn’t a lot of service in the church that is glamorous or sexy; however, every work you do, whether it’s small or large, is contributing to the kingdom of God. Imagine a stone mason. His boss gives him a stone and asks him to tend to it, care for it, shape it according to very specific measurements. He doesn’t tell the stone mason specifically what purpose the meticulous and consistent care for the stone will serve, but, when all’s said and done, he returns the stone to the boss. Little did the stone mason know, the stone would be situated in the wall of a magnificent, beautiful cathedra in the middle of the city.
Our work, though seemingly small and insignificant, is a lot like the work of the stone mason. We may feel that our service is toilsome and a waste of time, but as we look to Christ as our Good Master, we are reminded that our work is never in vain. Our service is empowered by the Holy Spirit as kingdom-building work. As we freely serve Christ and do kingdom work, we announce that the Good Master has come to set his people free from their burdens of slavery to sin.
“7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:7-9