When I was in high school, I ran a few seasons of cross country. And by ran, I mean I moved at my maximum speed while simultaneously feeling like I was one step away from total collapse. Especially on Mondays. On Mondays, our team would pile in our high school sports van and trek to the next town over to the bottom of a large dirt hill. We ran mile after mile up and down that hill. In California. In August. What once began as a hill felt like Mount Everest after mile three or four, and eventually, all of the miles began to blend together in one big head-spinning, heart-pounding, breathless afternoon. I had a similar feeling to that very recently, as I looked ahead to 2022 after ministering nearly two years into a global pandemic. In some ways, I felt like I was 15 again in the hot late summer sun, staring down that dirt hill for the fourth, fifth, two hundredth time. How, then, do we continue to faithfully minister to others, as we struggle to catch our breath ourselves?
This sounds like the classic, easy Sunday school answer, I know. But that does not make it any less true. Staying connected to God is essential if we wish to keep moving forward in ministry and mission. The disciples understood this (well 11 of them anyway). Amidst intense persecution, exhaustion and uncertainty, they persisted. Acts 5 details when Peter and the disciples were brought forth to the Sanhedrin, beaten, but continued to preach and proclaim the good news. Paul, shipwrecked, continued to write letters to churches all throughout the Mediterranean region, urging them to follow the teachings of Jesus. From these stories, we can ascertain that the apostles’ supernatural endurance and persistence were direct results of staying connected and committed to God. So should we, at the exact moment we begin to come undone, lean into the divine power and strength of Jesus.
We were not intended to do ministry all alone. Building supportive and encouraging connections with others can go a long way toward keeping us from feeling overwhelmed, overloaded, and burnt out. One of my very favorite Bible stories is the story of Aaron, Hur, and Moses in Exodus 17. In this story, Joshua’s army is locked into battle with the Amalekites. Moses discovers that when he raises his hands during the battle, Joshua and his army gain the advantage. When he lowers his hands, the Amalekites begin to overtake Joshua’s army. Eventually, Moses discovers that keeping his hands in the air all alone is unsustainable. What is he to do? Surely he must continue to raise his hands to ensure a victory for Israel! It is precisely at this time when Aaron and Hur each take one of Moses’ arms, and together, they held Moses’ hands in the air. Joshua and the Israelites are victorious. Had Moses been all alone, he would have run out of strength before the battle was won. Let us surround ourselves with fellow friends in the ministry who will lift up our arms when we cannot on our own.
No matter who we are or how much caffeine we consume, we cannot work forever and ever without a break. Renewal is essential to being an effective minister. Even Jesus himself would take time to pray alone (Luke 9:18). In fact, when Jesus was tempted in the desert, He prayed alone for 40 days! While most of our jobs do not allow for a 40-day renewal leave, we can intentionally carve out time in our schedule for rest and renewal. I recently took a renewal leave to Taco Bell. This is not just any Taco Bell, it is indeed the finest Taco Bell in all the land. Situated directly on a Northern California beach, I drove just under three hours round trip for orange nacho cheese sauce and refried beans enjoyed beachside. I created a playlist of worship songs and listened while I prayed driving through the Bay. While unconventional and relatively brief, I did feel a sense of renewal as I pulled into my driveway. However it looks for you; whatever feels most reasonable and attainable, look for spaces in your life, no matter how ordinary, to pause and catch your breath so you might move forward again.
My fellow ministry friends, as we enter another year in a truly wild and uncertain pandemic, let us not forget Paul’s exhortation to the church of Galatia “let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). Keep going, you are doing great.