3 Signs You’re Pouring from an Empty Cup

Abby McDonald

iBelieve Contributor
Published: Mar 21, 2022
3 Signs You’re Pouring from an Empty Cup

I have a difficult time saying “no” to people. Perhaps you can relate?  

Photo Credit: © Aaron Amat

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Saying "No"

Somewhere in my growing up days, I equated a “yes” with love, and this perception carried over into adulthood. While there certainly isn’t anything wrong with expressing love through acts of service, it can become a problem when you never set a boundary, when you assume each "yes" is mandatory to reflect genuine love.

Several years ago, I realized I had overextended myself. I was pouring from an empty cup, and fear kept me in this state for far longer than I’d like to admit. My desire for acceptance and approval pushed me to say “yes” even when I wanted to say “no.” It wasn’t until the birth of my third child and third c-section that I realized I didn’t have a choice. For three months, resting and recuperating, God refilled my cup in ways I didn’t even realize were possible, but I am forever grateful for the work he did in me during that season.

If you’re overextending yourself, trying to pour yourself out today but find you have nothing left to offer, there is hope. God is more than able to refill us, but we have to be willing to let him. We must submit to his practice of sabbath, genuine rest for the mind, body, and soul. Over the years, God has given me a few warning signs that I’ve learned to pay attention to when I am running on empty and headed towards unhealthy exhaustion. 

Here are three signs you are pouring from an empty cup:

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tired woman lying down on the couch

1. Constant Fighting for Approval

In short, you feel like you are constantly fighting for the approval of God and others.

It’s easy to slip into a mindset where we feel as though we have to earn God’s approval. After all, from an early age, we’re often conditioned to see work from a rewards system point of view. Work hard and do what you’re told, and you receive a gold star, a trophy, or a pat on the back. Be lazy and get reprimanded or have your points taken away.

But when we apply this type of thinking to the kingdom of God, it can cause us to spiral into constant striving and performing instead of abiding. God wants us to serve him from a heart that already knows he loves us in spite of our shortcomings and sin. We can’t do anything to earn his love and favor, but he freely gives it to us when we recognize that he is the only One able to cover our sin.

Paul makes it clear in Ephesians that the path to receive God’s favor is not through our works, but our faith in Jesus Christ:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV

When we notice ourselves trying to earn God’s approval, let’s remember the state of our souls when Jesus died for us. While we were still sinners who were scoffing at him and turning our noses up at him, he died for us (Romans 5:8). That’s how far he went to save us, and it’s how much he loves us.

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/eggeeggjiew

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2. Always Feeling Behind

If you feel like you’re always playing catch up, it could be a sign that you’re pouring from an empty cup. Spiritual growth is not a race, but it can often feel like one, can’t it? With social media and the ability to share our lives in real-time, it’s easy to compare our spiritual walk to others. But the most important work God does in us is below the surface and is often not visible to others. 

He is in the process of refining us to look more like Jesus, but this transformation takes time. In the same way an infant does not learn to walk overnight, we do not mature in our sanctification at a rapid pace either. This is not a reason to get discouraged but to remember the Holy Spirit is at work in us even when we don’t see it.

If you feel like you’re running behind in your spiritual growth today, remember this beautiful promise from Philippians:

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6 NLT

Did you notice the word Paul used in that first sentence? He didn’t say he hoped God finished his work. He said he was certain he would. So, in other words, the finished work is not dependent on our striving to keep up or our ability to cross all our t's and dot all our i's. It’s dependent on God’s Spirit alone. We abide in him, and he works in us and through us. 

If you feel like you’re running behind today, take some time to thank God for the work he’s already doing in you. Look back at how far he’s brought you, and remember his faithfulness.

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happy woman smiling in the rain with sunshine peaking through clouds, what is joy

3. Losing Joy You Feel You Can't Get Back

Galatians tells us joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is a by-product of living in communion with the Spirit. When we try to do the will of God on our own strength, we can easily lose our joy. We can also lose our joy when we try to live at a pace that is not consistent with what God desires for us. Instead of abiding, we’re trying to keep up with everyone else. We live in a constant fear that we have to keep the pace in order to be significant. But in God’s eyes, we’re already significant because of Christ’s completed work on the cross.

The good news is that God can restore our joy. Even if we don’t see any trace of it in our current season of life, he can bring it back. We see this truth in Psalm 51:12 (NIV):

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

If you’re living a joyless life right now, ask God to reveal areas of your life where you may have wandered away from the truth of his Word. Then, ask him to restore the joy of his salvation. He is faithful, and he will hear the honest prayer of your heart.

Sometimes we don’t realize we’re pouring from an empty cup because we don’t remember what it’s like to have a full one. A full cup may even seem unattainable, but I can promise you it’s not. God is more than capable to take our parched vessel and fill it. Take some time today to sit before your Father and rest. Let him remind you that his love isn’t dependent on anything we can or can’t do. He loves simply because we are his children and he created us. Anything we have to pour out or offer to others is not a result of our own achievement or position, but because of his Spirit in us. Apart from him, we can do nothing. (John 15:5)

When we pour out his love from a place of rest, it will be evident to those around us. They will be drawn to us because they’ll see that we’re not serving from a place of striving or obligation but from a place of complete satisfaction and fulfillment in God’s love. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/torwai


Abby McDonald is a writing coach and the author of Shift: Changing Our Focus to See the Presence of God. Her mission is to empower women to seek God in the middle of life’s messes and to share their faith with courage. Abby writes regularly for Proverb 31 Ministries’ daily devotions team, and her work has been featured in numerous publications. You can connect with Abby on her website where you can grab a free worship playlist to help you shift your focus toward God. You can also connect with Abby on Instagram.

Originally published Monday, 21 March 2022.