“But I bought their lunch!”

Ministry is about serving others. But when we let those others become the priority, we experience spiritual burnout. Those who know me have heard me say some real critical things about the college from which I graduated. I hope I’ve made it clear that the things I discuss are the elements of fundamentalism, as a whole, that have gone wrong. The overall experience of Bible college was positive. One thing that really sticks out in my mind is the emphasis that the president gave; the emphasis that ministry must first be about God. It’s not about how much or how hard you serve. It’s about your relationship and faithfulness to God. When you obey the Lord like you should, your ministry will be what it ought to be.

James MacDonald often speaks of how God uses crises in our lives to bring us back to Him. One such crisis occurred to me over the weekend.

I serve as a pastoral intern in my church. Although it’s a full time ministry, it provides me with a part time job. So, I’m not spending as much time in the ministry as my pastor does now or as I will do one day, Lord willing. However, I am getting a decent glimpse into what it’s like to work with people. I know what it’s like to spend time, money, energy, and prayers for others. It is challenging and rewarding. It could also be disappointing.

I work more closely with young adults and teens. Three of them (2 brothers, one cousin) have been fairly faithful for several months. We’ve had our ups and downs with them. They come from a rough neighborhood and are exposed to various forms of sin. Our church provides them with a refuge from that as well as eternal, life changing truth that they try to apply to their lives, although none of it is reinforced at home. As of late, the youngest one has been coming out the most. He was with me on Saturday for our outreach time. Even though it was hard (as usual) to get him to come, by the time the day was over, he hardly wanted me to take him home. I told him I’d see him tomorrow and that was it.

Every Sunday morning I leave the church at about 8:30 to go pick people up. This young man is always my first pick-up. Just like Saturdays, it’s hard to get him up and ready, but he’s always there. I called his house as I was on my way out. There was no answer. I tried again, and there was no answer as I tried at least three times. I went to his house anyway, only to be greeted by his uninterested mother who said, “oh, he’s at his grandmother’s.”

“His grandmother’s?” I thought. How can he just go somewhere without telling me? I just saw him yesterday!

We had prayed for a great church service that morning, and in light of that I walked back to my car extremely discouraged. This has happened before, but I thought we were making progress! What’s with the apathy?

As a result of a few others not coming, I couldn’t get my other pick-up because she’s a girl and my church’s policy is against two people of the opposite gender riding together by themselves. I believe in the policy, but this was a bad day to enforce it, because she was consequently late by using the train. She happens to be in my College & Career class, and since the only other person to come to that class that day was a girl, I had to cancel the class! (It’s a fairly new class, but we’ve had up to 7 people. This was one of those Sundays when everyone just…doesn’t come. Most of you can relate)

Before the worship service began, I sat in the auditorium glazed over. A friend came up to me and noticed something was wrong. He later told me that he didn’t stay and talk because I looked so depressed. It was true that was experiencing spiritual burn-out. The ministry has gotten to me already. I poured time into people and they do nothing in return but flake out. True, I was depressed. But even more so, my attitude was somber because I was convicted. You see, God used this to show me an incredible truth.

That night, I was to preach from Romans 3:19-31. What a passage! It deals with salvation by faith, Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice, and justification. I had already begun to prepare for it, and I knew where I wanted to go with the sermon. I wanted to simply preach about how great our salvation really is. At the end of the sermon, I used Sunday morning’s crisis as an illustration for the application.

Now, flashback to the car scene. I was very discouraged. I began to pray. I told God this isn’t fair. How can I pour my life into someone and they not seem to care? How can I do so much for them and they go off and do their own thing anyway? As I was praying, I realized that I was speaking to the One Who knows more about this than anyone else. It’s as if, when I said, “but Lord, I bought their lunch!” He said back, “but I bought your salvation!”

Boy, this hit me hard. Here I am knocking on a door and the teen I want to see doesn’t come out. I get all bent out of shape about it. Yet, every single day, my Heavenly Father knocks on the door of my heart to spend time with me and I either ignore Him or treat my prayer life flippantly! How can I expect others to be faithful to me, my ministry, my program, and my church if I myself am not faithful to God?

The ministry is about faithfulness to God. Everything else falls into place after that.

Thank God for times like these, for his children become changed and draw closer to Him! I know I have.

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1 comment so far

  1. Travis James on

    I know it’s a little generic to say so, but I really needed to read that. I’ve been going through very similar situations, so it’s good to hear that I’m not the only one. It’s hard to admit that you are burned out on something to which God has called you to do. But, that is exactly what happens when you lose touch with what the ministry is all about.
    Thanks for the reminder. I can’t tell you how timely it is for me.


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