In my years of ministry I have noticed a tendency among the servants of Christ that leads to ministry exhaustion. It is my opinion that more than any other factor, this is the reason for burnout: the factor of unbalanced love.
One day Jesus was being tested by the religious leaders. Wanting to trip him up, the Pharisees got together and came up with a trick question. This question and Jesus’ answer is found in Matthew 22:34-41 (NIV):
“34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
In most cases of ministry burnout an unintentional zeal for the second commandment has trumped the first. It often happens like this. A person who loves God deeply, seeks him for his direction for life and ministry. The state of their heart is this, “I really love God so what can I do for him?” In all sincerity and love for God the person seeks his will. Sooner or later the Lord reveals an avenue of service or a ministry that is to be undertaken.
And so it goes. With great excitement we get on with the job. We pour our energies into the people God has called us to serve. We make it the major focus of our life. We give hours, energy, creativity and passion to the work. All the while we are thinking that we are doing the right thing, and we are to a certain degree. Yet we are falling into a trap — the trap of unbalanced love. We in essence are pouring our energies into the second commandment and unintentionally letting the first commandment slide.
We don’t mean to do it, but loving people gets out of balance with loving and enjoying the Lord. Before we know it communing with God is but a minor part of our life. God is left behind in our quest to fulfill his call on our life. The problem is not that we are loving people, but that our love has become unbalanced. The result is always a parched and barren heart. We have become disconnected from the Lord of Life or at least our connection is not strong enough to let the life of God flow fully into our soul. Our hearts become like an unwatered garden, where the plants are wilting and shriveling up. Energy depletion happens when we repeatedly choose the second commandment over the first. We forget it’s “both-and”.
If you think this is not a problem with you let me ask you to consider some following scenarios. We think it’s great ministry to listen to a needy person spill out their pain for two hours. We find it onerous or wasteful to be in the presence of Jesus for two hours. This happens personally and organizationally. Remember the story of Jesus in Luke 10:38 (NASB):
Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
In our distracted quest to fulfill our duties to our neighbours we can easily forget to choose the better part. Mary remembered that the first commandment must not be set aside for the second and so too must we remember. It is our human nature to become unbalanced, to focus our love on people and activities, leaving the first commandment undone. Recently, a well-known Christian figure was removed from his leadership position because of inappropriate behaviour. In the restoration process he admitted, “For many years I have been building the “ministry” but losing my first love for the Lord.” Fulfilling the second command became unbalanced with the first. It happens to the best of us.
Today take a moment to check your love balance. Is there sufficient time being given to relationship with Christ? Live with balanced love. You will enjoy your ministry much more and be equipped to serve much longer.