Sunday, April 17, 2016

Battle Fatigue

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31.

In the midst of battle or stressful situations there’s an adrenalin surge. It helps us maintain the necessary inner resources for a successful outcome. When the pressure is off a strange reaction sets in. We find ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. What is required can be summed up in the words ‘Rest and Re–creation.’ Without this ‘R and R’ our ability to handle ongoing stresses and strains of ministry and everyday family life is severely depleted. Unwelcome consequences may then arise.

The record of Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal holds important insights for us. The account is in 1 Kings 18 and 19. Whilst there were many undecided onlookers who stood and watched, the prophet Elijah did the manual work himself. Why didn’t he seek their assistance? Delegation may have been risky but it would have eased the stress and lessened the weariness. The account of his intense, sustained and exhausting confrontation indicated he must have been totally drained. Did God ask him to do it all alone? There were men such as Obadiah around who may have accepted an invitation to assist. Did God expect Elijah to race the chariot to Jezreel through the rain and mud? There is a fine line, easily crossed, between God’s call and equipping alongside our zeal and desire to impress.

Chapter 19 opens with an exhausted, vulnerable prophet put to flight. The evil, infuriated, revenge seeking Jezebel wanted his hide. He who had faced 450 prophets of Baal and witnessed Yahweh’s power ran from a women’s threat. Why? Was it complete exhaustion due to doing everything solo? Would he have been better served after the victory to have withdrawn into a quiet place? There he could have been alone with the Lord to be refreshed and renewed. Ministers should take note. To forgo Preachers’ Refreshers, or personal time away can mean they often end up jaded, ragged, and faded. Health problems, family fractures, ministry misunderstandings ultimately overwhelmed. For a few of Christ’s servants unfortunate, long term consequences emerge. God in His mercy took Elijah to Mount Horeb. A new encounter awaited. There self pity and a sense of aloneness were confronted by the Lord. This paved the way for God to heal and recommission him.

Jesus set a principle for His disciples we could almost call ‘The Elijah pause’. Jesus told them to take time out and withdraw to a quiet location and ‘hang loose’ with Him. Still good advice in our society with a 24/7 mentality. With a mobile phone strapped to the ear and constant motivational seminars stress is the ministry disease of today.

In the wisdom of God He set in stone His command to honour the Sabbath, whatever day you take it (Romans 14). Regardless of our theological outlook there is a principle that shouldn’t be explained away. God calls all His people to trust Him by pulling back from life’s pressures. Pause from the work load to renew faith, emotions, spiritual and physical strength. In a sense Jesus was referring to Himself as the substance of the Sabbath in Matthew 11:28–30: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’

Ministry has its battles. They are wide ranging and on various fronts. We are human regardless of our love and zeal for Jesus and the Gospel. We wear out. Unless we make the conscious decision to put ‘R and R’ into its proper perspective we will become casualties in ministry. That isn’t God’s calling or expectation for us.

Reflection:  When was the last time I had an uninterrupted solitary meeting with my Lord my Saviour and Master about my ministry? What am I intending to do about that neglect?

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