Thursday, October 23, 2014

Longevity in Ministry - of rest and rescue

A few months back I began a series that I'm hoping will be both a challenge and encouragement - it has definitely been a challenge for me. The information I'm discussing is based off of a sermon by the senior pastor at my sending church. My notes started off with these words: "Like longevity in life, some basic things are needed - right genes, right diet, right exercise, and right environment." The same principle applies to longevity in ministry on the mission field.

In the first few posts of the series, I shared the foundation my pastor laid out:t to "start, run and finish well," includes two key components. First, we must trust in the sovereignty and sufficiency of God which includes praying like everything depends on God. At the same time we must be obedient, working daily as though everything depends on us in God's strength and for God's glory.

What does the practical outworking of that look like:

I've identified seven priorities that are absolutely essential - ones that protect me from burnout and the temptation of sin, ones that give me direction and hope for the future, ones that remind me from whence comes any and all measure of progress and success.

Those priorities are:
  1. Growing an increasingly intimate relationship with the Lord by consistently, daily and throughout the day, seeking Him
  2. Praying without ceasing (steadfastly, continuously, patiently, powerfully); 
  3. Striving to maintain a good balance between personal growth and service or ministry
  4. Welcoming accountability; 
  5. Committing to marriage and family; 
  6. Choosing to be teachable even in difficult circumstances; and 
  7. Determining to be a genuine team player.
Today, I'm considering that third priority. 

On the border between Israel, Palestine and Jordan is a body of water called the Dead Sea. Thirty-one miles long and nine miles wide at its widest point, it lies in the Jordan Rift Valley, and its main tributary is the Jordan River.The surface of the sea and its shores are 1,401 feet below sea level which is the Earth's lowest land elevation. It is nearly ten times as salty as the ocean. The hyper-salinity results in a harsh environment meaning neither plants nor animals thrive or proliferate in the environs. The Jordan River is the primary tributary, and because of the low surface level, water only flows in. It never flows out and is lost only by evaporation, hence the high mineral concentration.

My pastor likes to use the Dead Sea as an example of what happens if we focus on priorities one (growing in knowledge) and two (praying) without ever serving and giving back out:  we become like the Dead Sea, rich in mineral content but no place where flourishing and surviving will occur. 

It sounds a bit crazy to think that missionaries, of all people, would struggle with too much spiritual food and not enough spiritual service. Most of us often feel right on the edge of burnout. But I know from my own experience that sometimes, the temptation was great to cocoon within the expat or missionary community, to hole up with my family and hardly interact with people in the local community. Strangely enough, that retreat never helped the exhaustion... depression... anxiety... discontentment. What did help was finding and maintaining that balance between rest while still actively being a part of God's rescue mission.

We need to regularly give out the Word of God: evangelism, discipleship and through meeting practical and physical needs.  We must commit to intentional service while trusting God for those things that don't fit into the daily schedule. We must minister to our family, our neighbors, our community, within our official ministries... and at the same time allow God and others to minister to us. Sometimes that means accepting help - and sometimes missionary types aren't so good at that. We're so busy making God's business our business of rescue that we forget the rest.

Thus, as we look at these priorities, I can't say that one is more important than another. I can say that some more naturally come easily while others I have to work out. Yet they are all important and we must find a balance.

Back to that Dead Sea example... All inflow and no outflow leads to death. All outflow and no inflow leads to nothing left to flow out. 

Neither extreme contributes to longevity or productive ministry.

What are some strategies you use to protect this balance when surrounded by so many needs?

Which tempts you more: retreating within your family/expat community and withdrawing from ministry and rescue... or never taking the time to rest and retreat? Why do you think that is? What can you do about it?
      Series: Longevity in Ministry
      5. Habituate yourself? 27/09/2014

      Please note: 
      Italicized words are from my notes or from the guided notes in the church bulletin
      and are, to the best of my recall, actual content from the sermon.
      The rest comes from my continued study and meditation prompted by that sermon.

      To listen to the actual sermon "Start, Run and Finish Well," click here.

      photo credit: linh.ngan via photopin cc


      1. I think it's really hard to maintain a balance between inflow and outflow. I know I tend to swing back and forth a bit. Not to extremes, where I'm completely neglecting one in favor of the other, but definitely a greater emphasis. I always know I am coming out of a too-selfish time when I start writing personalized encouraging notes again (which is part of my ministry). When I realize it, I think, oops, had been neglecting that! Had been neglecting serving others.

        I think we were made for both work and rest, though. There in the very first chapters of Genesis this is clear. We need rest, but we were designed for work. I think we feel best when we're doing both, too. We need to feel satisfied in our actions and service, but we also need to retreat from the world to be with God, too. Of course, sometimes what we try to use for rest doesn't actually rest us (TV, food, shopping, etc). So I think in both parts, the work, and the rest, we have to really check our hearts, check our motives, and check the fruit.

        1. Great observation - that sometimes what we use for rest doesn't really rest us. Why do you think that we tend to lean towards those things, sometimes...

          I also think that sometimes God puts me in seasons where it is a more resting season or it is a more giving out season and He asks us to trust even though it doesn't feel balanced or it does feel awkward and not what I'd naturally do. One of my dearest friends and I have discussed this over the years, usually when she lovingly confronts me that I'm out of balance...

        2. Sometimes I wonder if it is our guilt that keeps us from resting well. Sometimes it's our unawareness, and not paying attention to how we feel after certain activities. But I also think sometimes we know, deep down, that there is sin in our lives, and if we spend the time with God that we need, we will be confronted with it. Which is never comfortable!

        3. i had to laugh at your last two sentences... i actually spend some of my best time with God on furlough years when I'm "busy" because with 8 busy kids, ministry and life, if i stop too long, i fall asleep out of pure exhaustion. i've had to train myself to still seek that time with God by listening to good preaching, Scripture on audio, while driving, etc. so that i don't feel so guilty when i collapse and then can't stay awake long enough to put a coherent prayer together or read more than 2-3 verses. :-) i struggle much more with this in a western context than i ever did while working overseas.

        4. We love sermon podcasts! We listened to a ton of them the year we were support raising. We can't listen to audio sermons on the road here, though, because the driving is too stressful, even on long trips outside the city. And city driving is crazy too! So I miss them. Because I do love me a good sermon. ;)

          I understand the west being more tiring -- I was SO tired last year on furlough. Unexpectedly so. And I didn't do any of the healthy, restful things to unwind. It's like it took me by surprise and I had no strategy whatsoever! I also think it is easier to feel close to God overseas, for whatever reason. The pace of life, the need for God, I don't know what it is.

          On another note, I have never been a morning person. "I hate mornings" is what I always said! Earlier this summer when I was trying to get back into exercise, I attempted to do it in the mornings. Well, it got done (a few times) but I felt so lightheaded and dizzy, maybe hadn't hydrated enough for the day. So I gave it up. But then I tried getting up to read the Bible and pray instead, and that is much more doable for me! I can read and pray while sleepy and lightheaded, I just can't jump around. And it's actually nice to greet the day like that, before the kids are allowed out of their rooms, so it's quiet and nothing has bombarded me yet (excepting the loud construction that is!). That's my problem trying to read and pray at night -- can't get my mind to shut up! Too much has happened during the day and I can't turn it off. But, as I said, all this morning stuff is new to me. LOL

        5. i'm definitely a morning person... as long as i get to bed at a decent hour. love the morning time, but i usually use it to get things done and in the quiet, i can meditate and pray and just listen to God. :-)

      2. I love the Dead Sea example! That's great! I definitely agree that it is hard to maintain that balance. I feel like for several years I've often been on the too much going out and not enough coming in side of things, but this year, now that two of my kids are in school and we've started at an international school that is providing us with a new and wonderful community of expats, I could easily swing too far in the other direction. On the one hand though, I've felt that this season is at least partly a gift from God to finally rest and replenish after a couple of exhausting years, but I am already seeing how I could "gorge" myself on rest and replenishment. Even in this season of needing to rest more and being blessed with that opportunity, I've also felt God leading me make sure I keep my heart focused on why God has us here, as in to love and reach Russian people with the gospel. I definitely feel blessed by God when I am given opportunities to reach out to others.

        1. we walked that same experience, ashley. when our children attended a local language school, we were out in the local community all of the time, partly because it is normal to get involved in that place where your kids are. once they switched over, then we found we had to work much harder. i always had to keep in mind the fact that God had brought me to that place to share His love with more than other westerners. at the same time, God brings us opportunities and i need to follow Him, even if it doesn't fit "my picture" of what i need to be doing. :-)

          i'm glad you are walking a season of rest and replenishment, ashley!

        2. Exactly the same here, Ashley! Even down to the community of expats. It's so nice; our children have even learned English in this past year. :-D

          But I feel like we have found a good balance for us.

      3. I have been thinking about this question: "Which tempts you more: retreating within your family/expat community and withdrawing from ministry and rescue... or never taking the time to rest and retreat?" And I really don't know the answer for myself. I never really had a choice before this, and I'm actually glad of that, I guess. But now that there is a choice for me sometimes, I need to be intentional about making it....

        1. like what you say about being intentional in making that choice - and responding to conviction when God lets us know that our current balance doesn't line up with what He'd want for our lives/families. it is one of those more fluid aspects of misso/expat life, i think... definitely one with seasons.