What drew you to speak and write on the subject of Christian workers taking care of themselves?
In my work as a psychiatrist, I have witnessed too many broken lives, too many Christian ministries ruined because of wrong assumptions—exhaustion does not make us more holy!—and wrong decisions.
When Robert Murray McCheyne, a young Scottish minister, lay dying at the age of 29, he turned to a friend and said: ‘God gave me a message to deliver and a horse to ride. Alas, I have killed the horse and now I cannot deliver the message.’ What a graphic picture of spiritual passion, which has turned to overexertion.
The consequences of not keeping your own vineyard can be harmful, even disastrous. They affect other people besides yourself, especially your loved ones, and also your work (1 Tim 5:4, 8).
So neglect of ourselves, far from being a sign of a spiritual attitude, can be a serious mistake and even a sin. Paul urged Timothy to learn this principle when he was still young, in his learning years.
His warning, ‘take care of yourself’ (1 Tim 4:16), contains one of the keys in Christian work. Notice the order: first the person has to be right, and then comes the work (the teaching). If the person is not all right, the quality of the work will be affected. A healthy minister is likely to have a healthy and fruitful ministry.
Is this message for everybody or do you feel like Christian workers are in a special kind of danger?
Every Christian leader suffers an extra cause of weariness that goes beyond the natural or human dimensions. Our work is not an ordinary work; it is God’s work and it is subject to the same opposition Jesus had to face.
We make a mistake if we overlook the spiritual battle we are immersed in. There is a supernatural dimension in our fatigue, therefore we need to ‘be alert’ (1 Peter 5:8). This is why prayer is so important as a key antidote and a source of inner renewal. As E.M. Bounds put it, ‘When you do not pray, you are an easy prey.’
We can compare our life to a pool, and our energy to water. Two streams of water need to flow at the same time. There is output, water flowing out. This is the emotional and spiritual energy that ‘goes out’ as we fulfil our calling.
Any caring task will bring some expenditure of energy. Being compassionate and empathetic, as Jesus was, implies identification with our neighbour and, therefore, self-giving. You cannot heal or help mechanically, as if you were repairing a car. The essence of caring is love, and loving means self-giving.
One of the healing acts of Jesus illustrates this reality well: ‘Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me’ (Luke 8:46). There are no shortcuts in the Christian ministry because we are mainly dealing with people.
Your partner in ministry,
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