When I turned 23 years old, I had been in full-time ministry for five years and was working 60 hours a week at a church. I reached a point that season when I felt tapped out and burned out. Part of me felt guilty for wanting a break, but a bigger part of me felt a nudge from God to move in a new direction. In fact, that new direction was to leave the church and everything I knew, pack up my Volkswagen with what little belongings I had, and drive 3,000 miles west to work at a ranch resort in Wyoming for the summer. Since then, I’ve had additional seasons of exhaustion I’ve had to work through rather than split from. If you’ve been in ministry for very long, you likely know the feeling.
Ministry is hard and seasons of exhaustion are inevitable. Sometimes, keeping it together seems about all we can do. So, how can we lead others when it doesn’t feel like we have much to give?
First, create margin for rest for yourself. This will look different depending on the season. What looked like rest in your mid-twenties will look different in your mid-thirties or forties. Which means you must make a plan. Yes, that’s right, schedule your downtime!
As a working mom of a toddler, that means no TV in the evenings. After little man goes down, I work out, jump in bed for some reading, and lights out at 9 p.m., to make sure I’m well rested for the next day. Prayer time is scheduled in my calendar, as well as play dates for my son with friends, and Friday movie nights with my husband.
Rest is important; Jesus exemplified this in Mark 6 after the apostles returned from their ministry trips. Moses was encouraged by his father-in-law in Exodus 18 to delegate tasks in order to have more room for rest. This advice might also be good for you—delegate what you can. You may be taking on too much. Some margin for rest needs to be carved out by letting go.
Creating room for rest will only take you so far. You must remember one very important passage: Isaiah 58:10-11 (NLT).
“Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.”
Sometimes in your tiredness you are called to pour into others more than ever before. It’s an offering that goes beyond your humanity and displays the infinite power of God.
If you can pour yourself out for others and satisfy the desires of those in need, even as you find yourself in the desert, God will make you strong and satisfy your own desires. In fact, He promises to make you like a spring whose waters never fail. You will always have something to give, no matter what form or size it comes in.
Dear leader, God doesn’t desire for you to burn yourself out on religion, but rather, learn the ebbs and flows of a faith lived for Him and others. Pour yourself out for the sake of the Gospel, yes, but never forsake your physical or emotional health. You can find a beautiful balance in ministry.