Despite having years of experiencing health and emotional problems due to overwork and overstress, I still indulge myself in too much. One might call me a work addict (and some have) but the fact is that I spend a lot of my life avoiding guilt. I have, on my own accord, taken on projects that were too much for one person to deal with, and then made myself responsible if they were not accomplished. I have done this because there are people that need help and there seemed to be no one else ready to put the energy or drive to practically accomplish them. Nevertheless, I have found that I am human, just like everyone else. Stunning discovery, huh?
So it must be said that I write these principles with the deepest conviction and the assuredness of personal experience, yet I have rarely followed them myself. I give them to others, recognizing that they are necessary for a balanced life, and are necessary to keep one assisting and loving, yet I have always considered myself an exception to these rules.
I am not, and I want to publically apologize for my hypocrisy.
Despite my own neglect, however, I present these principles as necessary for those who are working full time with the poor. I recognize that not all of us have the ability to follow these principles, but we must all do the best we can or else we will find ourselves:
Without compassion, because our own needs are forefront in our minds;
Without energy, because we are completely spent;
Without health, because we have used up our immune system;
Without love, because stress rules our life.
Take regular breaks
Schedule in times away from the ministry and don’t break those appointments. No matter how important it is for us to help those in need, we must first have the reserves to give to others. One wise organization that works with the poor insists that their workers take a half day mini-retreat a week and a two day retreat each month. All of us who work full time in ministry to the poor should have a pattern something like this.
Allow yourself to experience joy and enrichment
Those of us who are full time workers among the poor can be pretty serious people. We see the world as a tough place, and it requires tough-minded people to face down the suffering of the world. However, we as human beings were built to both experience and need joy. We cannot function well without pleasure in our lives. We need to allow ourselves to spend time being enriched, to spend time simply enjoying ourselves. It isn’t a luxury, it is a necessity.
Don’t settle for lesser joys
When we have lived with deep stress without a fair measure of joy in our lives for a long time, we will find our hearts, by necessity, seeking pleasure in ways that undermine our bodies or souls. We will seek alcohol, prescription pills, porn, internet or television addiction, or various other pursuits. If we find ourselves falling for these broken reservoirs, we must recognize that this is our body’s cry for help. We need rest in God.
Seek the Spirit
We must not only be following God’s will, we must be living and walking in the Spirit. But we cannot be living in the Spirit unless we are waiting on the Spirit, even as the apostles did of old. In our times of rest, we must take some of that time just waiting, listening and expecting the Spirit to fall on us. How the Spirit will lead us depends on our relationship with Him, but for all of us, unless we wait on the Spirit, we will never obtain the power of the Spirit in our ministry.
Build a team
You cannot do the work alone. Even if you currently don’t have anyone to help you, keep your eyes open and keep praying for God to grant you partners in your work. No matter how difficult it is to train others to do what you do, it is important for both you and the ones who assist you to do this additional work of God. God wants us not only to serve the poor, but to train others to serve the poor.
Support your team
Make sure that your ministry team already has established patterns for rest and resuscitation. Don’t let them slack in taking the time and enrichment they need to persist in ministry.
Have a personal support team.
We cannot recognize our own weaknesses and stumbling at times. Not only do we often not know when we are faltering, but we often cannot make a determination of what our actual needs are. If we are a full time worker with the poor and needy, then we should have a counselor or team who we turn to in order to help us make decisions about the context of ministry and how we are able to persist in ministry. This team should be praying for us and interested in our spiritual growth. Most of all, this team should not be concerned with only the minister’s well-being, but the well-being of everyone the minister works with. There should be a balance in the team’s focus between keeping the minister healthy and allowing the minister to help others. They should recognize that sometimes sacrifices must be made, but not at the cost of the long-term ministry.