When to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when serving others
It is not always the tough times that leave us fatigued, but when we seem to be doing lots of good things. In serving others, we are not meant to become “spiritually unwell”. How do we end up in such unhealthy situations, and how do we come out of them graciously?
The good, the bad and the ugly
There are both good and bad reasons why we end up over-stretching ourselves in serving or mentoring others.
1. Good intentions
The Bible is full of examples of Jesus serving and loving others, being pressed in by the multitudes. And many of us remember that Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Acts 20:35 ESV In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
So with good intention, we want to help where there is a genuine need. The challenge is that there are so many needs all around us, and we can end up taking on too much.
2. Performance driven
Other times, we only see God as a “boss” where we have to please, please, please. Without realising this tainted, incorrect image of God, we serve others to live up to our own expectations of what serving Him is about. Or we might remember Bible verses that tell us that God is patient and compassionate, and we are to be long suffering just like He is. So we do more and more, and leave little room to be still and rest.
2 Timothy 2:4-5 ESV As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
1 Peter 2:20-21 ESV For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
We can live as if God is a slave driver, which is a poor testimony. He is a loving Father who prefers our affections over our works!
These are all bad reasons for serving others, because we are not loving them unconditionally, but dutifully – and people can tell the difference!
3. People worshiper
Sometimes we fall into a trap because it’s hard to say no. That’s when the fear of man can subtly overcome us, rather than the fear of God – and we are no longer leading by example. This can be a fact that Christian leaders may be blind to, particularly if they have not learned how to stand up against emotional manipulation.
Proverbs 29:25 ESV The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.
Finding a healthy balance
In serving others, we also need to keep a few things in mind.
1. God ordains rest
Rest is crucial. God even ordains one day each week where we just rest in Him, and promises to bless us when we do. Isn’t it ironic that God gives us positive reinforcement for resting in Him? Is it because He knows we are inclined to neglect His rest?
Isaiah 58:13-14 ESV “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
2. God has a pre-ordained scope of work for each person
God is orderly and omniscient. He has assigned roles to each individual spiritual being and human being before our creation. He gives each one of us different talents and different works. We need to ask Him what those works are, instead of filling our calendars with lots of other random things that perhaps He has prepared other people to do!
Ephesians 2:10 ESV For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
Even angels, being spiritual beings, only go where God commands them to go, what more us as human beings! We should only go where the Holy Spirit has confirmed is where we should be, by praying and earnestly seeking the Alpha and Omega, God himself. In all our ministries, we are accountable to Him first, before any person.
3. God wants us, not our works
When we find the yoke of ministry difficult and its burden heavy, then we need to remember we are no longer following Jesus’s call in Matthew 11.
Matthew 11:28-30 ESV Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
God asks us to partner with Him, side by side, not run ahead of Him. The Bible records how King Saul wanted to get on with the work that God had prepared for him, but did not wait for God’s blessing first and instead took things into his own hands. Eventually he fell out of favour with God, because he placed his own interests before God’s. It is easy for us to forget that God wants us to do things that bring Him glory, and not reflect some of that glory onto ourselves. He is the ultimate source of all good things, and we should always humbly point people to Him, rather than rely on ourselves, our abilities and our works.
4. Decide to help, not enable
In life, we will come across people whom we will find very challenging to love. These will fall into three very broad categories.
One will comprise people who are different from us and whom we find hard to understand and accept. The second comprises people whom we have felt offended by. The third category comprises the “spiritually unwell”.
The first two actually represent important opportunities for our personal growth. The third is where we must exercise spiritual discernment.
Amongst the “spiritually unwell”, you will find people who are simply not ready to humbly receive God’s truth in their lives, whose hearts are hardened and chained to sin, who prefer to run away from God or not take responsible for themselves. It’s important to be able to differentiate between those with a genuine humble heart to seek God and those who are unwilling to deal with their own issues. People in the latter category can be real energy robbers; selfish, argumentative, ungrateful and blind to the truth. Such people tend to use others as a “crutch” for their own relief and convenience.
Ephesians 4:18 ESV They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.
We must beware of such cases, because we should not enable their unhealthy patterns of behaviour by “rescuing” them every time, and being at their beck and call. In extreme cases, where someone threatens to commit suicide if we don’t do something for them, we should not panic and respond in guilt, but pray and ask God what we should do next instead.
When dealing with such people, we must:
- recognise how we may be manipulated or “taken for a ride” – and ensure we wisely choose not to be
- discern and decide on what are healthy boundaries
- decide if there may be someone we should end a mentoring relationship with, at least for the time being
- teach them to rely on God, not on us
- refer them to a pastor or a professional counselor
5. Search our own hearts
God loves cheerful givers. When we give our time and resources to serving the body of Christ, we please God the most when we are joyful about it. So it is always good to do a self health-check of our hearts to test if we serving God out of love, joy and peace (fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22), and not out of guilt, spiritual pride, self importance, a sense of duty, or the lack of faith that He will provide others to step into the gap.
When we serve others because we are first serving God out of our love for Him, we will find deep contentment and joy in our hearts.
2 Corinthians 9:7 ESV Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Here’s a tip. When you are running low on spiritual or emotional energy, ask God to give you more of His love for His people, instead of more strength. If you ask for God’s heart of love for His people, your motivation (and strength) will naturally grow. If you ask for more strength, it does not always mean that you will become more loving.
6. Find ways to be equipped
Sometimes when we lack the skills and knowledge to help others, it is easy to become overwhelmed. So besides studying the Bible and seeking God for His guidance, we should also try to build up our knowledge in various areas.
2 Timothy 2:15 ESV Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
It’s good to read up about topics such as counselling, effects of childhood trauma, good time management, spiritual warfare, fasting, praying, spiritual disciplines, biblical roles of men and women, good communication skills etc., in addition to what the Bible says about many areas of our modern day lives. The good thing is that walking with others to find godly answers is also a great way for us to grow.
Proverbs 18:15 ESV An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.
7. Remember that God is in charge
You may sometimes hear people say that they don’t seem to see major progress or results in those that they mentor. In addition to asking if there may be a mismatch in the mentor and mentee relationship, we should also ask if we are following our own expectations or God’s timing. The Lord’s timing is seldom as quick as we would like it.
2 Peter 3:8 ESV But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
Moses was in the desert for 40 years before he was called to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. I’m sure the Israelites who were suffering in Egypt would have liked their freedom to come faster, but God in all His majesty, knew the perfect time for Moses’ preparation, the political situation in Egypt, and the pharaoh’s heart, before He could safely and gloriously lead about two million slaves out of bondage.
If we truly sense that we are in the right mentoring relationship, then we should rest in God’s timing and not get frustrated or discouraged. We will not have to wait 40 years, but sometimes the waiting just feels like a long time.
Galatians 6:9 ESV And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
8. Don’t neglect our own families
When we are involved in any form of ministry, we will sometimes need to sacrifice some precious family time. This is especially true for those with small children or aging parents. While God will honour our hearts to serve others and bless our families, we are to remember that healthy family relations are a good testimony for God. So we should be actively resolving our personal family issues and conflicts, as we help others with their struggles and questions.
Psalm 103:17 ESV But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,
9. We need others to pour into us too
The Bible talks about us living in community and encouraging one another. Mentors themselves also need mentors who can build them up spiritually.
Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
As mentors, we must remember we are looked upon as spiritual role models. It is therefore critical that we remain teachable and accountable to each other, and have people in our lives who love us in a healthy manner, ready to admonish and call us out when our thoughts, words and actions are not a good reflection of Christ. We can inflict great damage to a young believer’s faith when we represent Christ poorly. Jesus paid too high a price to redeem us, for us to stain His image!
Philippians 2:14-15 ESV Do all things without grumbling or disputing, you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,
Matthew 12:36 ESV I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak
What to do next?
If any of these lessons above apply to you, then it’s time for you to take “time out” for some quiet reflection with God, our maker. He alone knows what is best for you. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you where you may have gone off God’s plan for you and how to graciously bow out of those areas or relationships that are not part of God’s will for you. We can always pray for others to step into the gaps we leave behind!
Matthew 9:37-38 ESV Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
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