when loving Jesus more means loving ministry less

Originally published Sunday, 23 October 2016.

Months ago, we sat around a board table, alongside faithful souls who have been in these trenches with us for over six years, and we faced a challenging reality. And, for the first time in years, I wasn’t anxious at the propositions. Truth is, I have come to care less and less about the actual work of this ministry.  But, not in a cynical, unhappy way. I’m just coming to a certain realization lately:

The less I love the work, the more I love Jesus.

The work of this ministry has broken us, inflicted us emotionally, inspired us, moved us, and fueled us. It’s been fulfilling as well as frustrating. It’s been beautiful and enough of a blankedty-blank mess that I've been mercifully forced to allow God to reframe my thinking.

Maybe you know what I mean. Maybe you, too, have zeroed in on the serving while the Who went out of focus in the background - and have then felt the enormous, exhausting burden of it, so much so that you too have embraced an aha moment: there has to be a better way.

Yes, there is a better way, and it's always choosing devotion to Jesus over doing for Jesus.

But working for Jesus can be a sanitized distraction, can't it? It can be a lovely cover that embellishes a soul too tired or scared or unworthy or proud to dare approach the Who. I've been all of those, and probably simultaneously, at some point of this journey. After all, succeeding at good causes can be a beautiful trap, with supporters and titles as its disguise.

So, after a couple bouts of debilitating stress, this occurred to me: often we smash the concepts of Jesus and service together into one large bite to swallow. And, this causes two problems:

First, sometimes the Jesus factor is used to sweeten the service, effectively covering the toxins of too much. It causes us to take on more, do more, bend more, go too far, and take on risks - because, after all, it's all about Jesus, right? (No, actually Jesus doesn't call us to self-abuse in His name, and self-abuse and sacrifice are not the same. That's for another post.)

Second, sometimes the service factor becomes no longer identifiable as separate from Jesus. The two start to look the same, and we start to believe that doing for Jesus is actually the same as being devoted to Jesus - that talking about Jesus is the same as talking to Jesus, and that loving people like Jesus is the same as loving Jesus. (And, it's just not. One will burn you out, and the other will light you up.)

"Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:4-5

See, ministry or any spiritual service or any good and decent cause runs a risk of competing with our love for Jesus. It looks so similar, feels right, and can easily slip right into that divine hole in our hearts which should be filled by God alone.

Instead of taking that bite of mixed parts Jesus and service, I propose a new approach: it's just Jesus. He's the fuel, the one who empowers us. Love Him. Let the work and the service be a side dish - one that knows its place and never tries to trump the main thing and isn't even expected without the main thing.

And so, today may we consider this: Do I love the work more than I love Jesus?

Would I rather be spending time working, serving, teaching, sharing for Him – or being before Him directly?

Friends, let's focus on the One who equips and empowers, who loves us and covers us.

Stay. Remain close to the Source of hope, love, and joy. And never let your heart be moved by causes more than by Christ.