Last night I slept for eight and a half hours. That is a lot of sleep time for me. I just feel very drained but I thought this is a great opportunity for me to explain to you one of the great paradoxes of ministry and missions that I see both in the Bible and in my own human experience. When you go out to a period of extended service or missions, in my case it was Columbia for a week, it’s exhausting work. There is really no time off. There are no days off. There have been times where I have gone to China, Cuba, Romania or Africa for extended weeks at a time when there is never really a day off. You come home physically exhausted and drained. The paradox to this is the exhilarating, deep and profound satisfaction at the very moment that you are the most exhausted.
I wanted to explain to you this experience from both the scriptures and my own experience. This idea of being poured out and yet being filled up at the same time. Being spent and yet, at the same moment, feeling the riches of the grace of the Gospel. What is this experience of being empty and yet filled at the same time? Our team is also experiencing the same thing right now.
As I was coming back from Columbia training about 1,200 pastors and leaders in the Gospel of Life, we had a team that went off to Cuba and they crossed the entire island from Havana out to Santiago and all the way back across the island again in 6-7 days. They were teaching and training people in crisis intervention as well as handing out ultrasound units to doctors to use in their various cities. Everything is a mess right now in Cuba, which means that everything just seems harder and you see the people suffering.
The team got home just three days ago from Cuba, which is an exhausting trip, and are leaving today for Argentina. We have four people on planes right now. They are assembling in Miami and then heading down overnight to Argentina. They will be training in three cities throughout Argentina over the next six or seven days before they get back home.
My prediction is that they are going to come home totally exhausted and totally excited. This is the paradox that we see everywhere, and it’s a paradox that the Apostle Paul seemed to allude to in Phillipians. In Philippians 2:17 he says, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.”
Paul saw his ministry in many ways. He saw the best way to describe his ministry using the Old Testament sacrificial language. He even told us all to offer ourselves up as a living sacrifice. In this instance, he is alluding to the Old Testament drink offerings which would typically have wine poured out as an offering to the Lord. He is saying, “I feel like I’m being poured out in order to bring to the Lord this sacrificial offering (which is the conversion of the Philippians to Jesus Christ).” He also points out to the Phillipians that he is “going to bring you as my offering to the Lord, even though it costs me a lot, even though it’s hard, even though it’s absolutely draining of all of my energy.” In the history of the church, I have always noted people who put themselves at a lot of physical risk in order to do the work or the calling of missions.
I remember David Brainard, for example. He died very young. I think he was about 29 when he died, but he was known for traveling on horseback from town to town or Indian village to Indian village. He would not stop in the presence of hard rain, snow or cold in order to preach the gospel. Of course, it just tore through his body. George Whitfield was known to preach 20 to 30 times a week. In order to do this, he had to keep moving from place to place on these mission trips to America and other places that he went.
There are lots of people who know the exhaustion of ministry, but they do not know what we call burnout. This comes from my experience in a very exhausting ministry work. The paradox is that you get a secret filling at the same time. The Apostle Paul, again, says, “Even if I’m being poured out, I am glad and I rejoice with all of you.” He had exhaustion and joy working together. This is also my testimony.
The testimony of our team is that we go out and pour ourselves out doing what you think is the will of God. Since you get to see the grace of God unfolding in powerful and direct ways that you know bring glory to God, you come home with a sense of satisfaction that surpasses all understanding that is hard to grasp apart from this kind of faithful, obedient ministry.
I discovered a long time ago that my solution to avoiding burnout was to make sure that I connect a sense of God’s calling and the joy of what he is doing in me to the exhaustion that you feel and the lack of strength. In Nehemiah 8:10, it says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” That’s my testimony.
I think we can see how exhaustion and joy can be joined together in the ministry. When one does the will of God, you will feel this paradoxical experience of being dead tired and overwhelmingly filled with a sense of joy and satisfaction. I think it’s a pretty good way to live. Whatever the Lord is calling you to do in your ministry, I would wish for you the same experience that me and my team are seeing on a very regular basis. God bless.