How Can I Serve Like Jesus without Burning Out?

Aug 14, 2019

Photo by Frankieleon on Flickr.

As Christians we are supposed to sacrificially give of ourselves for the benefit of our neighbors without the expectation of a return. But how do we do this in a way that is healthy for us and for those around us? What do we do with the guilt we feel for not being able to be all things to all people? And what does it say about my faith if I get burnt out and feel like I can’t give any more? This week, Vince and Jo talk through what it means to be creatures who have limitations, and what that might mean for a proper understanding of rest in light of a God who pours himself out on our behalf.

Question Asked in This Episode:
“In the example of Jesus it seems very clear to me that we’re all called to be servants and humbly serve those around us, no matter the cost. But sometimes I find myself trying so desperately to meet the needs of everyone around me that I end up running myself into the ground, resenting the people who ask things of me and feeling like a doormat. In a culture that idolizes and commercializes ‘self-care’ and ‘self-love,’ how can we balance the counter-cultural call to serve one another while setting healthy boundaries and being realistic with ourselves about our limits. And if I believe Christ calls us to pour ourselves out for others, what does it mean about my faith if sometimes I feel like I hit the wall and can’t give any more?”

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Michael Davis: Hello and welcome to another episode of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale. I am your host, Michael Davis. Modern culture prizes the self above all else. Individual prosperity has become the metric by which people judge success. Unfortunately for many, the Bible is clear that this is antithetical to the way which a believer is supposed to live. The Christian is supposed to sacrificially give of him or herself for the benefit of those around them. We are to love without the requirement of return, but often times this can spell a recipe for being taken advantage of by people who know that we want for their good. Even more concerning, in our every increasingly fast paced world it is easy to give and give until it seems that there's no margin left or even faith enough to continue. What is a good balance between loving our neighbors and setting healthy boundaries? Is it even possible to achieve this balance?

But before we get started, Vince, can you tell our listeners a little bit about the RZIM connect community.

Vince Vitale: Definitely. Here's the great thing about Connect. It's the online global home for the RZIM family but the excellent thing is that if you go on there today and ask a question, raise a concern, raise a doubt, or ask for resources on a specific topic, you will likely get multiple credible responses within 24 hours or so, so I mean that's a fantastic resource to have., Rather than just plugging that same question or that same topic into Google and getting a vast array of responses and not knowing which are credible, you can come to RZIM Connect, our online community, bring those doubts, bring those questions, bring those concerns, those requests for resources, get credible answers, and also be a part of giving credible answers to other people who are asking questions.

Michael Davis: If you want to check out Connect, all you have to do is go to Okay, let's get to today's question from Kelly Hill. “In the example of Jesus, it seems very clear to me that we're all called to be servants and humbly serve those around us, no matter the cost, but sometimes I find myself trying so desperately to meet the needs of everyone around me that I end up running myself into the ground resenting the people who ask things of me and feeling like a doormat. In a culture that idolizes and commercializes self-care and self-love, how can we balance the counter-cultural call to serve one another while setting healthy boundaries and being realistic with ourselves about our limits? And if I believe Christ calls us to pour ourselves out for others, what does it mean about my faith if sometimes I feel like I hit the wall and can't give anymore?”

Jo Vitale: Kelly, I think you're articulating a struggle that a lot of people actually deal with.

Michael Davis: I'm raising my hand right now.

Jo Vitale: Among Christians. I think there's often that feeling of guilt almost that we're never doing enough.

Michael Davis: Right.

Jo Vitale: And I mean, so many Christians. Actually, someone asked me this same question last week, someone who was so burnt out that they just broke down in tears on my shoulder because they felt like to follow Jesus meant being selfless and pouring themselves out, but they literally had nothing left to give and so thank you for giving us the opportunity to talk about this. I think actually it's great that you're articulating this because what it means is that you're human like the rest of us.

Michael Davis: That's true.

Jo Vitale: I don't just mean that in a facetious way, you are literally human and that means you have limited capacity. It means you only have 24 hours in your day and your body needs a good number of those hours for sleeping if you have any hope of lasting more than a few days and so just think about it this way, look at the time that you have and look at the need in front of you. If you literally did nothing but serve people 24/7 you still couldn't meet the need of every single person in front of you and that's why I think you're absolutely right, we follow the way of Jesus, we take up our cross and follow Him and His example but one way we're not like Jesus is that we're not the Savior of other people and actually we cannot meet the needs of everybody around us, and that's why it's so good that we can point to a God who does.

Michael Davis: Right.

Jo Vitale: So there's a sense in which we're doing our best with it but we're not called to be the fulfillment of everybody else's need. It's actually not humanly possible. For those of us you say have people in our family or close friends, we can barely meet the needs of those people, you can't meet the needs of those people, let alone the rest of your community, the rest of everybody who's in front of you, and so I think in a way just accept your limitations and take a deep breath. That actually is okay.

There isn't an expectation that this is going to be all upon you and in fact, sometimes I think there's a sense in which because God knows our limitations He is calling us to serve but often He's calling us to serve in specific ways. That may be that He has a calling on your life, a career that He's given you, a place He's asked you to volunteer, a particular people group He's calling you to. Maybe it's your family, maybe it's your children, I don't know what your circumstances are, but there's a sense in which when you say yes to everybody and all of their need, it actually means you wind up saying no to the very thing God is calling you to focus on specifically because you don't have time to give to it and you don't have the energy to give to it or your best self to give to it.

So sometimes saying yes to everything can be a no to the most important things God is calling you to. So I think we are called to give but often God has a particular way for us to do that. Often He is asking us to balance needs and prioritize needs, not to say yes to every request that's coming to us.

Vince Vitale: One part of your question, Kelly, that really struck out to me is what does it mean about my faith if sometimes I feel like I hit a wall and can't give anymore and I think Jo has expressed this as well, but what it means is that you were designed to operate on God's strength and not your own.

Michael Davis: Yeah.

Vince Vitale: You know, I think that's part of it. In 1 Corinthians 1, just listen to this, "God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things to nullify the things that are so that ..." We should always pay attention when we get a 'so that' in scripture. "So that no one may boast before Him." So we're not supposed to be able to meet the needs of everyone on our own strength. If so, we wouldn't need God, we wouldn't need to operate on His strength, we wouldn't need to trust that He could do so much beyond anything that we could ever possibly do, and then we wouldn't have reason to give Him the praise and the worship He's due and we would wind up boasting in ourselves instead. So as a starting point what you're experiencing is exactly what you're supposed to experience as a human and it's supposed to bring you to deeper reliance on God.

Jo Vitale: And one place this is super encouraging for us is to look to the example of Jesus because think about who Jesus is. He's God incarnate, walking around on earth, and yes, in the ultimate sense He was willing to pay the cost and do everything. He gave everything of Himself to save us, absolutely. But because He knew that was His primary calling there are a lot of things along the way to that calling that at times He actually said no to. I mean, think about all the great social projects or political issues or injustices that Jesus could've spoken up about that actually He doesn't.

Are those things important? Absolutely but Jesus knew that actually they might in some ways wind up being distractions from the ultimate purpose that He was called to and so sometimes He had to prioritize the primary thing over other really important good things. And then think of the way that Jesus spent his time. I mean, He spent a lot of time serving people and helping others but think about it, He didn't start doing that until he was about 30 years old, so you might think given that He only had a few years left before He then died on the cross, was that really the most efficient use of time, Jesus? Like what about the other 30 years?

I'm sure He was loving people while in those years but He wasn't in public ministry, He wasn't traveling and healing the sick, so you might ask you know, why wait that long? Sometimes God's sense of how we use time and our own idea of efficiency are not always the time and then even when He's in ministry, look at the way He's using His time. Yes, He's going around healing the sick but sometimes there's a town that still has sick people and the disciples are expecting Him to stick around because there are still more sick people and Jesus goes away and prays and this is actually we've got to move on.

Michael Davis: Yeah.

Vince Vitale: You know, He's not always meeting the immediate need in front of Him, and that's even Jesus, and then look at how He's using His time. He's going up and spending time alone with God, the Father, getting away often for substantial amounts of time. First thing in the morning He'll go away and pray and spend time with God, so you know was that an efficient use of time? Surely there was someone He could've been serving but Jesus knew what He needed to recharge. He knew that He needed to rest. He knew that, even though there are certain people He was called to prioritize, which is why he had a small group of disciples. You know, what about all the other people who would've wanted to be there, who had needs too, but Jesus was aware that He needed to manage His time well and because of that He was able to fulfill the ultimate purpose, it allowed Him to love people the best He could.

You know, Jesus even went to a wedding and I know you might say well, He was there to do a miracle but actually He didn't do that until His mom asked Him too, so hey, maybe He was just there to like be with people, be at a party, like take some time to have fun with friends, to celebrate life, so I think what I'm saying here is if even Jesus had a rhythm and a pattern to His life, you know God gives us a rest, a sabbath rest, for a reason. I think we not only encourage but it's necessary for us to also find healthy patterns to our life.

Vince Vitale: That's good, and I think the other aspect of this is that we are called to community and to function as a community and as a body.

Michael Davis: Yeah.

Vince Vitale: If you could do it all yourself you wouldn't need the rest of us.

Michael Davis: That's right.

Vince Vitale: You wouldn't need others, and I think there's great comfort in knowing that I'm just one little piece of the body who's called to some specific small things but everyone else is as well and together we could do something great for Christ. The eye cannot say to the hand I don't need you, the head cannot say to the feet I don't need you, and I was just thinking about images of that, Jo. I was thinking about Rafael. So our son can't crawl yet. He's currently almost five months old, right? But he's found out a way to move himself and so he has the strength but he hasn't figured out yet how to use the arms, so instead what he does is he plants his face into the ground and then he kind of sticks his back side up in the air and he starts kicking, and he's able to slide himself forward on his face. He's using his face for what your arms are supposed to be for. Now can he do it and make progress? Yes.

Jo Vitale: He does it all night in his crib.

Vince Vitale: He does it all night.

Jo Vitale: From one end to the other.

Vince Vitale: But it is utterly exhausting because he's using one part of the body to do the function of a different part of the body, and you know we find the same thing in the body of Christ. If you are called to one thing but you are trying to spend all of your time and efforts trying to do what other parts of the body are called to, you might be able to do it temporarily, you might be able to make some progress, but you're going to exhaust yourself so it's a really important question what Jo raises, what specifically are you called to do as one part of the body.

Jo Vitale: And I get your struggle with the word self-care and self-love. I hear those and cringe actually, like I really, really struggle with the language there because you're right, it seems...Well, it isn't such contradiction to Jesus' statement anyone...You know, the only thing Jesus says about self is deny yourself.

Vince Vitale: You're right.

Jo Vitale: So I get that. It seems very self-centered, self-focused, but I think maybe it's worth thinking about it a different way, that actually taking time out from constantly serving isn't about a sort of selfish self-care but actually we need to reorient our understanding of what service is and what worship is and that actually having that time away from maybe practically helping somebody doesn't mean you're not still worshiping God, and in fact, prioritizing spending time with the Lord, having those moments of rest, can be a deeply worshipful self-denying time while nevertheless filling you up and being an encouragement to you.

I think sometimes even we think well, if I'm not serving then I need to be in the Bible, in my quiet time. I need to be studying. I need to be doing something. But actually everything is worship if we're doing it unto the Lord, and so actually you having just a chill out listening to music or maybe taking yourself off on a walk and enjoying creation or painting something or whatever it is you do to rest, maybe enjoying a good book, all of these things can actually be very worshipful activities where you're not being selfish, you're actually enjoying creation God has given you. You're thanking Him for it. You're spending time with Him. You're inviting God into those moments, so it doesn't have to be about yourself that can all be about living life with God, enjoying His community. That's the joy that we're never alone as Christians, God is always with us, so every moment can be spent in a worshipful way but it doesn't always have to translate into ministry hours that wind up burning you out.

I love this, right? Like think about Elijah, the prophet Elijah has the peak of ministry success, the stories the prophets on Mount Carmel, you think this is the utter peak of his whole ministry career. He should be feeling great and he's so burnt out that he's suicidal, you know? And he literally wants to die and what's God's response to his ministry burn out because he's just been running so hard, literally, that he's just tired of serving? God just basically gives him a nap and gives him some cake and I just love that. I just love that. If you're having a tough day, you're burnt out, God's like, "Have some cake." You know?

As an English person, in particularly with the Great British bake off, I can really appreciate that God gives us cake.

Michael Davis: I love that show.

Jo Vitale: Yeah, I'm sure it was like a victorious sponge or something. It was good cake, whatever cake it was, but you know, God sees our practical need as well as our spiritual need.

Vince Vitale: That's right and resting is not a statement that you care less about others, resting is actually a statement that you have enough faith in God to believe He can do just as much with your six days as He can with your seven, just as much with you even when you take that time to rest in His presence, than He could even if you would've just continued to push all the way through it.

Michael Davis: How much do you guys think this has to do with maybe almost like a matter of Christian freedom where in a sense like there's the conviction of believing that if somehow, and I think you touched upon it, like if I don't this I'm not a good Christian and if I don't this...So can you maybe break down a little bit about how like God doesn't see us differently whether we're doing this or not, He sees Christ.

Jo Vitale: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, it's funny how much we often live under the perspective that we're saved by grace but we're kept by works, you know?

Michael Davis: Right.

Jo Vitale: But we're kept by grace too, but not even that because that almost implies that if you're not doing these things you're sinning.

Michael Davis: Right, right.

Jo Vitale: As if you need for forgiveness for not doing them, but actually I think that's a misunderstanding of what the Christian life looks like. It's a holistic life, it's not a let's burn ourselves out until we have nothing left, and I think Vince has hit it on the head here that we have such a different understanding of how time works, of how God's vision is for our relationship. I think we think something's only meaningful if it's taking on a certain format, like feeding the homeless.

Michael Davis: Right.

Jo Vitale: Or running around doing an act of service for somebody. What about just the joy of laughing with your friends? That is a gift and a blessing to them. I think I've mentioned this before but I was really challenged a couple of years ago when one of my closest friends said to me, "Jo, you always prioritize ministry over people." And it was a bit of a burn because I was like ministry is people, but then when I really took it to heart and I thought I hear what she's saying here is that to her it feels like I'm so focused on the things I'm doing with people I barely know that she's like are you going to be there as my friend? You know, can I call you up when I'm having a rough day and know that...Or are you just going to spend time with me and we'll be able to go out to dinner and enjoy each other's company and delight in each other and that could be worshipful and encouraging and wonderful too.

So I think sometimes reorienting that. It's interesting, even as RZIM speakers, we had to think this through because the temptation is always to say yes to more ministry, to more events, but this is an invitation and people want us to go and talk about Jesus, how could you say no to anything? But we had a really good model from our boss Michael Ramsden who basically...The first years of doing this was on the road so much that his family weren't getting much time with him and he was absolutely exhausted and so they basically put a principle in place of a limited number of days a year which was a dramatic cut back from where he had been and they were nervous about doing that because they thought what about all the wasted opportunities rather than...

But actually what they discovered is firstly God provides for those opportunities. If you don't go, God is going to show up. God has a plan. He's going to do, He doesn't need you. But secondly, Michael found his effectiveness in ministry multiplied tenfold, that by doing way less events what he brought to each one, because he was rested. Because he had joy in his life because he was spending time with the Lord and being refreshed, that actually the fruitfulness of it was so much greater.

Vince Vitale: And a lot of this highlights that first and foremost we need to know God intimately and we need to know our shepherd's voice because God has not asked us to do everything and we're not called to do more than He's asked us to do and we're not called to do less than He's asked us to do, so really first and foremost we need to make sure we know His voice and we have that deep sense of what He's called us to and what He hasn't.

Another thing that I just wanted to circle back to for a second here is that allowing yourself to be loved well I think is actually critical to loving others well.

Michael Davis: Exactly.

Vince Vitale: And I was even thinking about the trinity here, you know? Before the trinity actually loved other beings that existed, right? Just in the nature of God you have this love relationship where each member of the trinity is loving each other and each member of the trinity is being loved perfectly before then that love is expressed for others who are created. So even in the nature of God there is a love of oneself by others within that relationship before there's the outpouring to those who are in need, and maybe that's something of a model for us.

This is becoming concrete for Jo and for me at the moment with Raphael, with our son, because we have some decisions to make. We've been married for ten years, you know? Rhythm is really going to change, it has already changed in life now, and a lot of the good advice that we've gotten is about how important it is for us to continue to love each other well and receive love well from each other and care for each other and make sure that relationship is healthy not to the exclusion of caring well and loving well Raphael, but actually as the very foundation of that, right?

Michael Davis: Foundation of it. Exactly.

Vince Vitale: If we're not receiving well from each other and aren't in a healthy place then we're not going to be able to love him well, so that's another way to think about it. If you do want to love well the people in your life who are in need, you need to make sure you're being loved well so that you're in a place to pour that out.

Jo Vitale: Actually that's so important because that actually...Nuance is something I said before because I said Jesus talks about self-denial but of course Jesus also says love your neighbor as you love yourself, doesn't he?

Michael Davis: Right.

Jo Vitale: So actually there's a sense in which if we...And I think it's true, you'll see, if someone doesn't love themselves, if they're very hard on themselves, eventually it comes out in them being hard on other people as well and so I guess it's just being open to the Lord saying will you let me love you? Will you be in a place where you're just wanting to have that posture of receiving and let others bless you?

The other thing here is sometimes we can reach a point where we run around so hard to serve other people, and like you said that feeling of sometimes becoming a doormat, that people stop going to God for themselves and we have to be careful that we don't enable a codependency where people look to us for things that actually they should be looking to God for and actually we think we're helping them by doing that. I know there were certain girls that I used to mentor as students a few years ago but some of them I felt like I reached a point where I realized actually some of them have become dependent on me in the place of dependency on Christ and that was a really wrong thing. Like actually they needed first and foremost for God to be the one they went to rather than setting myself up as the person they needed in order to be able to get through the day.

We want to help people practically and sometimes yes, people in such a tough place that they absolutely need our help and support but let's just check ourselves and examine our relationships, bring them to God, and ask Him am I serving this person the right way or actually am I enabling them to become dependent on me when really they need to look to you and I'm becoming a hindrance rather than a help.

Michael Davis: Well guys, we are out of time. Vince, sum it up for us.

Vince Vitale: Well Kelly, thank you, because this is such an important question and to go back to our colleague Michael Ramsden, one of the things he told me when I first started in ministry is that especially for people who maybe really are passionate about what they do and passionate about the Lord and about ministry, burn out tends to happen not in five years but in 15 to 20 years and he said it can be like a battery that's just slowly draining year by year and it's almost imperceptible.

You don't notice year by year and you get to five years and you think well, I'm still standing so I guess this pace must be okay and then you get 15 to 20 years in and you don't even recognize yourself, so this is such an important question to be asking for your own health but that for the sake of loving others well and being able to meet their needs and being able to point them to Jesus. So we need to know God intimately, we need to start there, we need to know his voice, and then we need to not do more than He calls us to or less than He calls to, but be obedient exactly to what He has called us to.

So that's where I would focus some of your time, that question of calling. What are your spiritual gifts? What does your heart jump towards? What are your abilities? What is your personality and how does that fit with what God might be calling you to? What is your experience and how might God be weaving your history and your experience into things that He has called you to? If you can get together in the context of community and answer that question then I think that will help to answer this more fundamental question that you're asking as well.

Michael Davis: Vince, Jo, thank you guys for joining me. Thank you all for listening and we'll catch you guys next week.

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