The old illustration proved true in everyday life as well as in ministry, so permit me to use my own version of it. The first time I used a chainsaw years ago was a real challenge. I borrowed it from a friend, who suggested I sharpen it first. Well, the work of taking down a few trees quickly became very tough. Sweat poured off me, muscles strained. I began to wish for a bigger saw with more power. Fatigue set in—nagging doubts about my manliness overcame me.
Being an elder without ever taking a break to “sharpen” our spiritual saw can diminish our effectiveness and wear us out. Consider the multitude of meetings, counseling, problem solving, planning, communication issues, and interactions with deacons. Then there’s lining up speakers, keeping the congregation informed, navigating conflicts with other elders, wrestling with biblical interpretations and applications to the life of the assembly, etc. These all challenge the stamina of the most robust elders.
When Paul says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal 6:9 NIV), he speaks of the long haul. But, the accumulation of burden takes it toll. In training the 12, Jesus made allowances for those who get wearied: 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).
To be sure, some seek a life of ease (see Luke 12:19), but the Lord had something else in mind. The Greek word anapauo, translated here as “get some rest,” in its most basic sense means to rest from physical labor, to sleep (see Matt 26:45). Sometimes, establishing an adequate sleep pattern is essential for “doing good.”
But there is another sense conveyed by this word, namely the spiritual refreshing one receives from another Christian. Paul says of three co-workers: “They refreshed my spirit and yours also” (1 Cor 16:18; see also 2 Cor 7:13). Such experiences were a break from the spiritual burden of ministry. Christians ministering back to the one doing the ministering are like a breath of fresh air amidst the tense atmosphere of strenuous work.
When Jesus invited his disciples for a short spiritual retreat, three things seem obvious: 1) Jesus is the one who ultimately gives us the refreshing we need to rejuvenate our ministries; 2) He recognizes our need of it; and 3) This requires time away from the people we are ministering to!
Just like with Jesus and the 12, people will demand more and more of you, hindering you from refreshing yourself. But it remains that Jesus recognized the necessity of “saw sharpening.”
One elder proclaimed with a certain machismo, “I haven’t taken a vacation in 15 years!” I believe the Lord would frown on this. He loves us too much to see us burned out like a horse running till it drops. We need times away, allowing the Lord to minister to us and to refresh us—for the sake of our ministries. This is not a sign of weakness or laziness. Rather, we need to maintain a “sharp edge.”
How long? How often? Different people have different needs and capacity for work. Keep in mind a secularly employed elder works two careers! Unfortunately, irrational thoughts sometimes plague us. “Satan doesn’t take a break, so why should I?” Well, praise God, we don’t use Satan as our example. “I would rather wear out for the Lord than rust out.” The Lord would rather us last out. “What will people think?” Rather, what does the Lord think?
My wife and I just returned from a week away; we parked our camping trailer by a lake and refreshed our souls. No pressures, no phone calls, no e-mail (and no Elders’ ShopNotes to work on!). We relaxed and listened for the Lord through our reading, praying, bike riding, hiking and, truth be known, just sitting and talking together. No high-pressure study program for the week. Very refreshing! By the end, we were ready to dive back into ministry.
Are you due for a refreshing time away from ministry? You will be refreshed and sharpened for the elder work when you return.