I’ll never forget driving to the Grand Canyon with my mother and father in the car, my 2 year old son and my pregnant wife. We drove along the freeway laughing and telling stories, it was a joyful time indeed. Then, as if out of nowhere, we heard a beep.
I looked down and I saw the fuel light come on.
We had 30 miles of gas (48kms of petrol) left in the tank. We were in the middle of the desert, and the outside temperature was around 45C or 113F.
To make matters worse, we were about 40 miles from any gas station. My mother, as if I had never left home, let me know that she was unimpressed with my irresponsibility. “How could you have put us in this position? It’s so hot outside, your wife is pregnant, and your son?!” My wife gave me a look that only my wife and Mum (both whom I adore) can give me, though not related to my mother, I’m sure she inherited part of that look from her!
“I’m so sorry”, I said, we were having so much fun that I simply forgot to check how much gas was left in the tank.
I’ve been having so many conversations with people in ministry lately that are running on empty and they are looking at the dashboard of their life wondering how they got into this predicament and how on earth they are going to get out of it.
I’ve been there. 10 years into ministry I took a years sabbatical simply to work on my relationship with God.
Last year I took 6 months off social media, simply to be silent (and silence the voices around me) and hear my Saviour’s voice.
It happens all too often.
Pastors busy preparing sermons but neglecting to read the Word for themselves. Leaders so busy caring for others that they forget to let Christ care for them. Volunteers too concerned with filling the roster that they neglect to fill themselves with His love.
The end result, empty ministers.
It is often at the times of incredible “growth” in ministry that us ministers feel most empty. Why? Because often the growth we measure and celebrate isn’t the primary purpose of our existence! The first commandment is to love God, the second is to love our neighbours as ourselves, it is not the other way around.
You will rarely hear of a board asking for how many hours you spent telling Jesus you loved Him this quarter. You will rarely find people wanting to donate to your 5 hour retreat to be with Jesus. But surely these things are more important than filled pews and growing ministries? (Though loving Him will naturally lead to loving others, we can not flourish when we have things the wrong way around).
Oh that we would not neglect sitting at His feet to make him a meal He didn’t order! Be a Mary not a Martha! (See Luke 10)
So, what can we do when we find ourselves running on empty? I’d like to suggest three things.
1. Be honest with yourself and with others.
Too often ministers are islands. Isolation destroys a person. I always say, “don’t let your position (title, job, role) get in the way of your position (son, daughter, His beloved). Be honest with yourself, are you striving in ministry? Are you trying to climb a ladder instead of climb onto your Father’s lap? Is that sermon you’re preparing for the back row or for the front? Are you in a healthy place right now? How’s your heart? How’s your conscience? Talk to others about how you are really going. Talk to Jesus about how you are. Take time to sit, reflect, journal and allow Him to search your heart.
2. Listen to the Holy Spirit and obey Him above all else.
I often feel led to take time out with God. It’s often during the busiest times of my life. It’s often a nudge, “You need to take Friday off”. I can tell you that I never regret taking time out to be with Him. I always regret neglecting that time with Him. Listen and obey. He cares for you more than you could ever care for yourself. My Grandmother used to remind me that you are never too busy to stop and pray, indeed the busier you are the more you need to pray! Sometimes you have to say no to something good to say yes to something greater.
3. Stop and fill up.
The Word says that He pours out His Spirit without measure. (John 3:34) Sometimes we are so preoccupied with the journey that we don’t stop to fill up. Yet we must, or we put ourselves and all those in our ministry in danger. He wants to fill us up to overflowing with His incredible love. Stop what you are doing and let Him fill you up.
Running on empty? Drop a comment below, I’d love to pray for you.
PS- We didn’t end up running out of gas on that hot day in the desert. We prayed and we took our foot off the accelerator, hugging the back of a truck we made it to a gas station just in time! The moral of the story? God is gracious, but you better pay attention to the fuel light if it’s on and get some gas now!