Majoring in Life
Don't kill yourself trying to serve Jesus.
Scripture passages in this lesson are linked to this page for easy access.
For more help on the issue of stress and the role of faith, see this online article by Fawne Hansen.
Lesson 11: No Sweat
(Getting out of the heat of frenzied ministry)
Text written and copyrighted © 2002 by Manfred Koehler. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)
I nearly killed myself trying to serve Jesus.
I was sixteen, a follower of Christ, and enthusiastic about it. I read my Bible, prayed, and spread the gospel to everyone who would listen. Our church youth group was on fire for Jesus, and I was one of the handful who got it there. Every time those church doors opened, I ran inside. I taught Bible studies, did door-to-door witnessing, edited a newsletter, set up chairs before meetings, took them down after, and earned the highest award in Christian Service Brigade (read: a guys-only AWANA program or a Christian Boy Scout troop).
Talk about busy for God.
During those days I got more phone calls than the rest of my family combined. "It's for you, Manfred," Mom would say, eyes still riveted to her book. I had big people to see, important things to discuss, hot sermons to preach.
My schedule looked like a turkey with too much stuffing:
- Monday: No church. Get some homework done.
- Tuesday: Visitation night for youth. Door-to-door evangelism.
- Wednesday: Christian Service Brigade. After-meeting leadership huddle.
- Thursday: Youth night. After-meeting social.
- Friday: Bible study for "on-fire youth." Edit the teen Sunday school newsletter.
- Saturday: Youth outreach event. Bring a friend, and see him trust Jesus.
- Sunday: Sunday school (pass out those newsletters). Morning service (help in children's church). Youth football game (tackle). Evening service (sometimes preach). Another after-meeting social (restaurant cheap, nice atmosphere, desserts only).
I did all that for a grueling year and a half.
At eighteen I was burnt out. I slashed my schedule and even skipped many of the things I really wanted to attend. For three months I slept thirteen hours a day. Like a bear just out of hibernation, I was still tired when I woke up. This all-out-for-God thing had lost its glitter. I was depressed and secretly hoping to die.
Like I said, I nearly killed myself trying to serve Jesus.
Unfortunately, I didn't learn my lesson. After my junior year at New Brunswick Bible Institute, I took on the huge responsibility of being program director for a family camp that at its peak hosted one thousand-plus people. By the end of that summer I was so emotionally and physically exhausted, I had no desire to go back to Bible school. My mind and soul had been thoroughly fried.
A Note to Anyone Who Hasn't Been There
Some Christian youth need a loud wake-up call to get out and serve their Savior. He has given every believer the tools to do so (1 Peter 4:10). That includes you. You need to learn to use those tools, the gifts and talents God would have you utilize for the rest of your life to glorify him (2 Timothy 1:6). Moreover, you have been "created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10). Good works didn't save you (Ephesians 2:8-9), but they are part of the package deal that comes with knowing Jesus.
Mark this well: God's great program for this poor world has no room for laziness.
Good News for "Been-There-Done-Thats"
But some of you, like myself, need to hear a different message: God doesn't want you to sweat to death serving him.
Ezekiel, one of God's prophets, gave some clear instructions to the Jewish priests of his day. He wrote,
"They are to wear linen turbans on their heads and linen undergarments around their waists. They must not wear anything that makes them perspire" (Ezekiel 44:18).
God didn't want his ministers to sweat, period. He still doesn't.
We're talking figuratively here, now. If your service for God is getting harder to face, becoming an empty grind, pushing you toward burnout, you're working on your own steam. You're sweating. Jesus doesn't need your sweat. It stinks to high heaven.
What does he want? Mostly Jesus wants you to enjoy his love (Ephesians 3:16-19). He wants you to be filled with peace (Colossians 3:15). He wants you to find rest (Matthew 11:29-30). All three of those—love, peace, and rest are guaranteed antiperspirants for the sweating child of God. Think about it. A guy in love with a nice girl avoids the offensive smell of sweat. (That probably works both ways.) And a guy full of peace and rest isn't working so hard that his soul perspires.
Concentrate on Christ's love, peace, and rest, and you'll find a growing power working within (Ephesians 3:7, 20). That power will enable you to serve God in a way that will far out-distance your feeble efforts. And it's a power that won't leave you panting on the side of the road, thinking about dying.
No sweat. That's where God wants to take you.
One Major Disclaimer
We're not talking about literal sweat here. We're talking figurative sweat in the spiritual realm of your life, remember? So if you're a runner, go ahead and work up a lather running the fastest mile you've ever run. If you're digging a ditch, set the pace and work so hard you're the first one to drip. That kind of sweat is great. God definitely desires for you to be wholehearted in all you do (Colossians 3:23).
Use Your Nose
Learn to recognize the stink of sweat in your service for God: a heart that groans at the sight of a church; emotions that balk at the thought of doing anything else for Christ; a mind that questions, Does God even pay attention to all my hard work?
Those are all signs of a sweating soul.
Don't keep perspiring until you flop from spiritual heat-stroke, as I did. When the reek of spiritual sweat reaches your nostrils, bathe yourself in the basics: God's love for you, his desire for your peace, and the relaxing rest that comes in Christ. Enjoy them. Saturate yourself in them.
And stay there until you stop sweating.
Then, renewed and refreshed, you'll be able to serve God again. In his strength, not your own.