Yes, and welcome back to another Mind Fart Monday/Truth Toots Tuesday/Word Vomit Wednesday post! For those who aren’t familiar with this, my friends Brian and Taylor started this initiative to write about a random topic a few hours before midnight in the form of Word Vomit haha. A lot of people joined, including myself, so you should definitely check them out cause they’re awesome 😀
Brian, Taylor, Xing, Justin, Hnou, Jenine, Esther, Josh
Unlike last week, I’ve asked my good friend Avery to give me a random topic for me to talk about, and the first thing she said was “ministry”. My initial response to her was “I don’t know if I’m ready to be honest about that”, and I asked her to give me other topics but after considering it all, I think it’s only fair to actually write on this topic. I guess that’s the whole point of this initiative. To be honest and vulnerable about how you really feel knowing that you aren’t perfect, and being willing to stop putting up an act of proving to the world that I’m a “good” Christian.
So here we go. For all of my university life, I’ve been serving at many ministries. From primary school ministry, high school ministry, university ministry, young adults ministry, overseas missions (which I guess can be considered as serving at a particular ministry), mercy ministries….oh man you name it. For a good 3 years of my life, I spent more time doing things for the church than in my studies. I’ve been at church for the whole of my life, but it wasn’t until the beginning of my university year when my eyes were truly opened to the extent of my sinfulness, to who Christ was, and to the sheer beauty of God’s grace. From then I was fired up to go tell the world, to talk to strangers about Christ, to foster “fellowship” amongst my friends, to watch Francis Chan sermons all night long and to add to my pile of books to read from Koorong. And of course, to serve at all these ministries, ready to use my gifts and skills to help out in whatever way I can.
But I guess the hard-hitting question I have to ask myself is, did I really do that out of pure reverence for God and because I truly had a heart for it? Or was it out of obligation, wanting to be accepted, not wanting to be left out, wanting to be praised or even just out of spite to prove to others that I could do it?
To be honest, I feel that although my intentions may have been good at first, there were more often times when serving became about me. Which is extremely hypocritical, given the definition of “serving” which is denying yourself to help others. And the scariest thing is that even though everyone around me may not know the true condition of my heart, God knows. This brings me to remember a hermeneutics talk we had at GLDI (which was a 40-day Christian Leadership camp in LA). This wasn’t even a sermon, but more of a discussion or exercise on how to read the text considering all these different factors that gives us greater meaning behind the context and meaning of the text. The pastor used Cain and Abel as an example, and we were supposed to identify the different characteristics between the two. For the longest time, I honestly never understood why God preferred Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s, and I just deemed it as something He sovereignly chose. However, the pastor described Cain as a “careless worshipper” which really struck a chord with me. Cain gave a “careless” offering, whilst Abel gave his best offering, “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions”. On the outside, it doesn’t seem to make sense that God will choose Abel’s and deny Cain’s offering, but God can see the condition of their hearts, the true intentions behind their actions. And we see that in Cain’s response as he murders Abel out of anger and jealousy. Cain’s heart behind his offering was ultimately self-seeking, or else he wouldn’t have become so bitter from the circumstances. God even gave him a second chance by challenging him to do better, but instead Cain chose to appease the desires of his sinfulness.
There were so many times when I became bitter as a result of serving in ministries. People told me that relationships were one of the hardest things to ministry, and that’s so true. Serving together for the sake of the gospel is so hard because it literally is a gathering of broken sinners who all have to deny their sinful, self-seeking desires to serve for a greater cause beyond themselves, to serve for God’s glory. And really, if you lose focus of why you’re serving, it’s so so SO easy to make it about yourself. Thinking up questions like “why are they expecting me to do so much”? “why are we doing this, what’s the point of it?”, “why aren’t they caring for my needs?”…it can go on. So, how different am I to Cain in regards to the state of our hearts?
This isn’t something to be ashamed of, because honestly it’s just the state of our fallen condition. We are inherently selfish, we naturally want to do things that glorify ourselves, we do things that will bring immediate pleasure to ourselves and idolise anything and everything before God. This is the reality of the brokenness of humanity. And really this would be a depressing fate for all of us. But we must remind ourselves again and again of the hope that we have in Christ, who became sin who knew no sin, that we might become his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). So really, when we realise these things about ourselves, as tempting as it is to think “yep, that’s why I shouldn’t serve at any ministry next year”, I think it’s more of a rebuke and challenge to reflect on the true condition of our hearts, and to re-centre our vision back to Christ, and away from us.
Which brings me to my second point, which is that I feel that so many people become burnt out. It’s almost a shame to see my friends who were so excited and passionate to do all these things for God, but by the end of the year they just want it all to be over so that they can pass it onto the next set of leaders. I really struggled with burning out as well, which is clear because (if you haven’t read my last post), I usually end up committing to more things than I can handle. I remember this time last year all I could think was “man, next year I’m going to stop doing everything and have a year of rest for myself to recuperate.” However, I met up with a friend recently who has great visions for how God can really use Sydney as a platform of evangelism to people from all around the world. His passion was so real, and although his vision for Sydney will take years, and maybe even his whole life, I could feel that sense of assurance knowing that this guy probably won’t end up telling himself next year “man, I need to take a break from this, I think I deserve it after serving for a year”. So what is the difference? Why are some people feeling absolutely burnt out after serving for a couple of months, whilst other people can keep at it (although obviously with their own times of struggles and hardships) for years on end?
Ever since I’ve been back from my trip in America, I’ve been so so SO busy just getting all excited to apply all the things I’ve learnt. And by God’s grace I’ve been connected to so many different people and given all these really amazing opportunities to network with other Christian creatives and developing my skills as a film-maker. I’ve been so excited to do all these things, that most days I would end up being exhausted just having to think about all the things I had to do for the next couple of weeks. And as a result, my time alone with God (TAWG to all my GLDI friends haha) became lower and lower on my priority list. I started becoming liberal in my thoughts, thinking that because I was doing all these projects for different ministries, that it was okay that I wasn’t spending any time for QT or prayer. But as months went by (I came back from America around mid-August), this sense of anxiousness wouldn’t leave me. After a full week of a busy schedule, sometimes I would spend the whole day literally not doing anything, but I would still feel so exhausted and never really at peace. Throughout this whole time, at the back of my mind I knew what I was missing, I knew that I’ve been neglecting God, despite on the outside looking like I’m doing so many things for Him. Even though all my actions on the outside looked so good to others, God knew the condition of my heart. On Sunday, this was re-emphasised even more through my pastor’s talk on Philippians 3, when he asked, “when was the last time you were hungry for God?”. Wow. When was the last time? I feel that instead of being hungry for God, I’ve just suffocating of thirst because I’ve been denying myself of what I needed, and stuffing myself with what I wanted.
These series of rebukes led me to finally do my QT properly on Monday morning. I sluggishly got out of bed, avoided looking at my phone and opened up my ESV study bible. There I found the bookmark my mum made for me, and it was on 1 Samuel 13. This led me to smirk, because sometime earlier in the year I wanted to read the whole bible once through, and that’s where I left it before I left for America. I began reading, which was about Saul being appointed as king, but he continually does things by his own accord which eventually leads to God leaving him and choosing David, who was someone who was “after God’s own heart”. The phrase that really got to me was the line “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (from 1 Samuel 15:22). I felt like I’ve heard this phrase before, and it really just stood out to me. Fast forward a few hours later, a friend messages about a talk I gave him from GLDI by the director Brian Ivie, who made the Drop Box movie. I decided to have a listen to the talk, and this is what he said halfway through the talk after he shared his testimony. “I’m going to make three points. First is character over career. Second is why over what. Third is obedience is better than sacrifice.” I did a double-take when I heard him say that, and realised straight away that’s where I heard that phrase before, but I completely forgot what he actually said about it. Eventually he shares about 1 Samuel 15, about how Saul didn’t obey God, but thought he could be forgiven by sacrificing, to which Samuel said “to obey is better than sacrifice”. Brian than made some great points regarding how sometimes we might feel the pressure to become missionaries, to go to Africa and to serve full time. But God calls us to obey, not to impress others by sacrificing our time. Whether it be a call to go to Africa, or to be a student here in Sydney and serving at a university ministry, obedience is greater than sacrifice.
This I realised is something I really needed to hear, because for the past couple of months I’ve been sacrificing my energy, my time, my efforts to do all these things for God, but my life severely lacked obedience to what I really needed to do. Which was to simply dedicate some time for the Word and for prayer, which I feel is the rest and source of peace that I needed. And by God’s grace, He’s made this message so direct that He made me hear it twice in one day hahaha.
Anyway, I know it’s hard to be honest about how we truly feel about serving at ministries sometimes, especially when our hearts aren’t at the right place. But I hope we can be more honest and real with the issue of bitterness and burn-outs from ministry. Ultimately, it’s probably a result of something deeper in our lives, and it’s so important to keep accountable and transparent about these things. Once you let people know, that’s when they can keep you accountable to the things you are struggling with.
This is a super long post….thank you if you’ve made it this far. To end, here’s a song I always end up listening to every time I feel like I’m back to where I started.