by Rev Chan Chee Keng
When life is so busy and hectic and humming, You’re uptight and frazzled and stressed; Slow down for a while and spend time with the Savior, And be sure to get adequate rest. – Fitzhugh
When I was asked to write on this topic, I seriously felt inadequate. Inadequate because there are many who have served God in greater capacities and have gone much further in the ministry. On top of that, I have had my fair share of struggles in my ministry. But perhaps in sharing my struggles others may be encouraged to ‘go the distance’ in the ministry which God has called them to.
A few years ago I was diagnosed with hypertension (blood pressure that remained uncomfortably high for quite a while) and was subsequently prescribed medication along with advice to take a break from work. Many thoughts came to mind during the break – have I been trying too hard to find solutions, meeting the expectations of others, perhaps taking upon myself the problems of others, not trusting God enough, not having sufficient physical and emotional rest, etc?
The term ‘burnt-out’ came to mind but I stubbornly shrugged it off (self-denial, I think). But there’s no escaping from God who graciously orchestrated a mandatory rest. What struck me at the start was the length of time it took for me to get into ‘rest’ – mentally and emotionally. How ironic that while God can get me away from the church office, I can’t get the office out of me. I pray that my short sharing will also encourage others to go the distance.
1. Refreshed in the body
One of the common struggles of ministry work is being ‘burnt-out’. ‘Burn-out’ to me means, ‘having nothing left to burn’. One dictionary defines ‘Burnt-out’ as – ‘exhausted as a result of long time stress, depleted of strength or energy’. In addressing this issue, we can draw some encouragement from Elijah the prophet. After his incredible victory, here is Elijah fleeing from Jezebel.
The story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 showed that even a man of God could be stressed out and fall into depression. In this account, we are told that Elijah was afraid and even wished to die. God’s response to this tired and stressed out servant was simple (and very effective). Twice God gave him food and undisturbed sleep before gently confronting him at Mt. Horeb with his error. Psalm 4:8 says, ‘I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.’ According to J.E Yoder, ‘Sleep is not the full remedy for stress, but other solutions can become clearer to people who get adequate rest’.
F.B. Meyer likewise gave the same advice to us who are feeling stressed out from ministry: “Get more sleep!” In most of our longing to deepen our experience of God’s peace, we are looking and hoping for something that is more actionable ‘spiritually’. F.B. Meyer told a simple story about a godly Bible teacher who was asked to share about the key ingredients in his own life for walking in the Spirit. The surprising reply was this: “Get 8 hours of sleep each night.”
Perhaps, for some of us, this is a gentle but much needed advice to rest in the full knowledge that God is awake even whilst we rest. If rest is elusive, this is an invitation to return back to the Saviour and Great Shepherd and to trust in Him for all things – our lives and ministry. The same question arises in both Psalm 42 and 43: ‘Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?’ To this, the response is a call to trust in God: ‘Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.’
2. Refreshed in the spirit & in truth.
Bishop Solomon of the Methodist Church cautions that it is possible and dangerous that one can have zeal without knowledge. What a timely reminder that our zeal and fire for the ministry must not be something engineered and stoked by our own gifts and zeal, or successes along the way. Such things could take a life of its own, bring glory to the self and have a real danger of leading us and others away from the truth. ‘Our passion, and what we perceive as fire within, may have to do with personal or corporate ambition rather than the fire lit by truth from above.’ Based on our own strength and zeal, it is no wonder that when the going gets tough, we can easily give up. Many will recall friends who have served God faithfully (whether full-time or lay) only to fall away and to give up on the ministry altogether. In the wise and comforting words of Oswald Chambers, ‘Our Lord’s first obedience was to the will of His Father, not to the needs of men; the saving of men was the natural outcome of His obedience to the Father. If I am devoted to the cause of humanity only, I will soon be exhausted and come to the place where my love will falter; but if I love Jesus Christ personally and passionately, I can serve humanity though men treat me as a door-mat. The secret of a disciple’s life is devotion to Jesus Christ, and the characteristic of the life is its unobtrusiveness. It is like a corn of wheat, which falls into the ground and dies, but presently it will spring up and alter the whole landscape (John 12:24).’ Indeed, we need not be crushed by the weight of the ministry or worn down by the tough journey. It is not our strength, gifts or an earnest devotion to a noble cause that should keep us going. It is that personal and passionate love for Jesus that carries us forward.
3. Revisiting the Call once again
One particular helpful aspect of ‘going the distance’ must surely be the revisiting of the Call once again. For some of us, we have asked that question over and over again. H.B. London Jr. distinguishes falling in love with our calling from that of ‘puppy love’ for the little girl next door or a crush on your kindergarten teacher. He likens it to someone who will pen down all the reasons to be in love after being married for many years. Indeed ministries may endure without love but to fall in love again is a call to rekindle that love affair with our call that we heard and responded to at the start. We could have started with nobility and enthusiasm but the long journey will require revisiting the call. Revisiting the call means reminding myself that it is God who sent me. No matter how difficult the ministry might get, we should always work with the comfort and assurance that God always promises to be there because He is the absolutely faithful and trustworthy God. ‘It is realizing that it is more important to know who is leading than where you are going.’
Tough times can cause us to lose momentum and we may start to doubt our calling. We begin to wonder if we have heard God correctly or perhaps taken a wrong turn somewhere along the ministry. But if God is God of my life and ministry, then even if I were to have taken a wrong turn or miss the mark, God is still God and is still sovereign over all situations. Stretching of heart and soul in our ministry has both the aspect of faith and character development. ‘God’s stretching makes us better, purer and more like the Saviour.’ In His gentle and kind leading, we are built up to be more like Him and to lead others to that same goal.
Let me end with a prayer, ‘Originator of my call, re-energize my love for ministry, empower my actions with authenticity, season my attitudes with grace, and enable me to serve so others know Christianity is more than a rule for life, but a Person to love.’
My friends and fellow-servants of the Lord, ‘Go in PEACE to love and serve the LORD.’
Farlex, Inc. The Free Dictionary By Farlex. 2014. http:// http://www.thefreedictionary.com/ (accessed June 25, 2014). Meyer, F.B. “1KIngs Devotionals.” Our Daily Homily, Our Daily Bread. July 2013. http://preceptaustin.org/1kings_ devotionals.htm (accessed June 27, 2014). Solomon, Robert. Fire for the Journey. Singapore: Genesis Books, 2002. Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest. Uhrichsville: Barbour Publishing , 1935. London, H.B., and Neil B. Wiseman. The Heart of a Great Pastor. CA: Regal Books, 1994.
Rev Chan Chee Keng and family have been with COR since April 2013. He and his wife enjoy ‘couple-time’ taking short walks, window-shopping or marketing on his day-offs.
This article first appeared in Issue 11, August 2014 CHORUS Magazine.