There is nothing honouring about wearing yourself out – for whatever noble reason you’ve set. For God, for your church, for your business, for your family.
There will be times when you need to do more, sleep less, push past every boundary you feel you have. There are even seasons of life when that needs to be done – small babies and children, times of health issues for you or a family member, critical issues within a job or business, financial reasons.
But all of these times and seasons are meant to be just that – a time, or a season.
Our entire lives, from start to finish, from early morning to waking evening, are not meant to be lived at rush speed.
Of course, we all know this. We nod our heads sagely and say yes, I agree with this. I want to be someone who is at rest and peace and who even in the crazy seasons of life finds time for quiet, and makes it a priority to be silent, be with God, be meditative.
But there’s a bigger part of us that is tempted to feel that – either in sum total, or in specific areas – it is more holy, more honourable, to wear ourselves out for our noble goals
It is not.
That is a lie, and one that is even more dangerous because of the elements of the lie that are rooted in truth.
We read about persecution. We see people who are suffering in other lands (or in our own land). We look at missionaries serving until they are exhausted, ministers pushing themselves past all endurance, those who work for Christian organisations driving themselves into the ground.
And although we say with our lips to those people, “You need to rest. I’m worried about you. When will you stop?”, yet our own lives and our own minds don’t support it.
We shake our heads over the person who has rings under their eyes, and we tell them to get sleep: but when they say, “But I had to go to prayer meeting last night,” we think yes, of course they did, because prayer meeting is a good and holy thing, so therefore it is worth being worn out for.
But what if the most Godly, honourable thing possible was for this person – or for me – to
get a good night’s sleep?
What if we chose that, even though we perhaps hadn’t made all the best decisions leading up to that point, and received abounding grace anyway! Even as we didn’t do everything, didn’t go to every event, didn’t always say yes simply because it has to do with church or something holy?
There is no possible, physical way that you or any of us can do “all of the things”. There is
no feasible way the human body can be pushed beyond endurance for the entirety of our lives without breaking down at some point – and those breakdowns, especially when they become more frequent, and less far between – are a blazing sign to tell us that we are not serving the Kingdom: we are wearing ourselves out, and there is a great penalty that will be paid. By us, by our families, by the church itself, by those we serve.
St Paul said “So I will very gladly spend and be spent for your sakes.” (2 Corinthians 12.15). That is one statement, from one person who felt the pressure of the work he was doing.
Out of weakness is shown strength. “The time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.” (Hebrews 11.32-34)
Paul, in one of the weakest times of his life heard God say to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12.9)
But we are not serving until we are spent.
We are – too often – serving far, far beyond that: because we are serving out of our own strength.
And that includes the pride-induced working which pushes far – too far – because no one else will do it. Or we really want to do it. Or we think that somehow we will honour God more by staying up until 2am, or walking until our knees collapse, or falling asleep in the middle of prayer meeting.
When we serve out of weakness, it looks different to how we’ve been doing things thus far.
The one at rest in weakness is humble.
We’ll never give Him more honour and glory than He already has, because He is all-sufficient in Himself.
So if we can’t do all the things, or even if we have to let someone down and admit that we took on too much, God is still going to achieve mighty things.
Therefore, the person at rest looks at every activity and every choice as an opportunity – either to serve out of the strength that God supplies, or to let someone else serve, and see God be honoured without our help.
The one at rest in weakness recognises that before our own Master we stand or fall.
We are people pleasers, first and foremost. Ourselves, and others.
We are legalists, living before the religious leaders of the day, standing at the street corners, taking pleasure in the nods and accolades of those around us.
The one who is at rest in weakness recognises that even the most wise, discerning people in our lives are not those responsible for our decisions. They are indeed wise people, and we are wise to listen and take counsel and pray and consider well what we will do.
But we make our decisions ourselves: and we can know whether our decision is good and healthy.
Sometimes, we’ll get it wrong. Make a decision and then realise later that the advice or counsel we received was right in that situation.
Which leads us to grace.
The one at rest in weakness receives grace.
True weakness means we admit that we could have chosen better in other areas of our lives at times. Made healthier decisions about other activities we decided to do.
But we did what we did, and we’re paying the price for it now. And pushing past illness or hurt or strain or exhaustion is not beautiful, not holy: it’s a form of penance.
“I should have,” we say to ourselves, beating ourselves up with an invisible whip of cords. “I should be getting more sleep. I should not have stayed up watching Netflix. I should have read my Bible instead. I should, I should, I should, I should.”
True weakness, instead, receives grace. Admits the wrong, if there was wrong done, and doesn’t live by the word ‘should’, but by the word ‘will’.
What will I do today? Will I try to serve penance by pushing harder and doing more? Will I seek the praise of men, or will I receive the grace that relieves my burden today, and does not add another one on top of the one I’m carrying already?
Jesus takes the burden. “My yoke is easy,” He says. “My burden is light.” (Matthew 11.30) It’s easy and light because He is the one carrying it.
When we insist on taking it and carrying it about, it becomes very heavy indeed.
The one at rest in weakness knows how to say no.
We’re a people who hate to say no. We are people pleasers, and we often live out of guilt, shame, or fear – instead of the glorious freedom that proclaims with joy, “I can’t do it all. It is not possible.”
We have the discernment to know what to say yes or no to. He gives us the strength to say no even if someone’s feelings will be hurt (or our own will), or it won’t be understood by others.
We also receive grace when we say yes to something that would have been better to say no to; and again when we say no, and we wonder if saying yes was a better choice.
And even if saying no to that event, that good work, that extra service opportunity, is required because of poor decisions we’ve made in the past, there is grace for that too.
I live with an illness of fatigue (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or CFS, also called M.E. here in the UK). It’s an exceedingly dangerous illness because it goes in phases. I can go months feeling really good, and then have several really bad weeks. Or I can make some poor decisions energy-wise, and yet still feel amazing. Most of the time I know the repercussions of my decisions – but sometimes I don’t.
And for years I lived in fear and false guilt over the times when I did something for my job, or for fun, and as a result I couldn’t make it to my MET group (Bible study), or a church event, or even worship itself on the Lord’s Day.
I would beat myself up for it, and flail myself with the invisible whips, and accuse myself to myself. “If you hadn’t gone out with friends that night you could be at church today,” I would think. “If you had stopped working at 5pm you would have been at Bible study.”
But then I got to thinking. What about the times when I stayed up far too late, or took a holiday, or worked overtime – and I was still able to do the church events as well? Those decisions I took to do a fun thing, or work, or stay up late: were they poor decisions because of the net results, or were they poor decisions in and of themselves?
Which means instead of evaluating my current energy levels by the things I did or didn’t do, I needed to get better at simply evaluating where they were today.
I do try to look for patterns in my life – things like asking, am I usually having a quiet time with the Lord as a priority, or am I more often missing it? – but even patterns are hard because my health issues don’t follow recognisable patterns. If I put my decisions on a graph and shared them with you, we wouldn’t be able to make head or tail of the results of going to bed early or late, working long days or short, going on holiday or not.
The one at rest in weakness is content in serving in invisible ways.
I had to learn (and still am learning) to say no.
And as I get older and my natural energy also reduces (what is left of my original energy after the illness has sapped so much), I find that I am saying no more, and more, and more. I say it so often that sometimes I feel like I’m not doing anything for the Kingdom.
I know that is not true: because I talk to my Master often about it. And He who knows my physical and emotional and spiritual and every other kinds of weaknesses is far more patient and gracious with me than I am with myself: and He has been showing me that more of my service is becoming the invisible kind.
When I moved to Scotland, it was in a sense as a ‘missionary’. I came on a mission team, I came for the church, I came to help. And I did that, for many years. And then the years went by and I got older and my health issues continued, and now I don’t consider myself a missionary the way I used to. I’m just a “normal person”, living here and running a business to support myself and being part of my local community church as much as I am physically able to do.
My service when I moved here was so obvious. I was involved in just about every activity the church had. I was running MET groups and spending time with the young people and going to every prayer meeting and visiting churches and being mentioned in the annual general meeting notes about who did what in our church.
Now, so many of those things have faded away. I am still involved in my church, but I don’t go to all the things. I travel more for my business now, and for various family reasons I am needing to go back to the States more often than I did before. But there are other, more invisible ways I am serving the Kingdom – and I’m not going to share any of them with you because that would make them visible.
You see, most of us are two-talent people.
The one at rest in weakness is a good and faithful servant.
You may know the story of the man who went away, and gave to his servants pieces of money, pieces of his wealth, and instructed them to use it well. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one talent. When the master came back, his servants were to account for how they used those talents (Matthew 25).
Think about the talents in terms of energy and time.
The Master has given each of us a certain number of talents – a certain amount of energy to use.
There are some very high profile people who are truly five-talent people. They sleep four or five hours a night, and run hither and thither at top speeds, and never seem to lose ground at all. They use their five talents and gain five talents more, and we look on in envy.
Then there are the one-talent people. For whatever reason their energy is extremely low – but they don’t use it at all. Not even invisibly. They just hole up and hide and don’t try anything, because they are afraid.
But those are the exceptions. Those are the dramatic edges of the story to point to the middle people, the two-talent people, the normal people.
Those who have about as much energy as anyone else, and all we are meant to do is the best we can with what we have. We’re not meant to turn our two talents into five, or to ten, or to six hundred. We’re meant to gain two talents more, with the help that God supplies.
And you see the glorious end to the story? The response of the Master to how the talents are used?
“Well done, good and faithful servant,” the Master says to the two-talent servant, when the talent reckoning comes. “You have been faithful over a few things, I will make you a ruler over many things.”
But the five-talent servant gets the same reply. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” he is also told. “You have been faithful over a few things, I will make you a ruler over many things.”
He isn’t told, “Even more well done.”
It’s not that he was faithful over many things, and now will be a ruler over all things.
You don’t get more praise because you used more energy. You don’t honour God more and enter further into the joy of your Lord because you wore yourself out for the Gospel.
Use your talents well – whether you have one, two, five, or more than that. But don’t squander them by over-use. That’s not why they’ve been given to you.
The true end to the story is that none of us have been faithful, even in the smallest of things. But our great older brother Jesus has been faithful in every single area, and when the Master sees our work, it’s seen through that righteous work of Jesus, and that is why we get the “well done, good and faithful servant”.
God is the faithful one.