It was a late summer night, and traffic was zooming by us as I drove on the interstate. My four-year-old son was whining, asking for a certain toy from a sea of toys behind my seat. I kept reaching in the dark hoping eventually I would grab the right one, all the while hearing over and over, “No, not that one, not that one!” After several attempts, I finally got the one he wanted. Then he said, “Mommy, you didn’t know what I was understanding!” I wonder how much God understands that we could know if we would just pull over and turn on a light. Perhaps the greatest thing God wants us to know right now is that we cannot be effective lights if we, ourselves, have dim souls.
As a Christian leader born and raised in the church, I am overly versed in the “die to yourself daily” and ”put others first” mentality, almost so much so that I find myself more often than not rejecting the popular self-love/self-care ideologies. I have rolled my eyes, claiming these movements are the polar opposite of the gospel, and recently heard myself say, ”The world is teaching us to be our own gods.” My perception is in large part due to the fact that I see Jesus as zero percent self-serving. At times, I’ve even used Mark 10:45 as an anthem to justify the “give my life” kind of burnout. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
If you haven’t taught a message on servant leadership yourself, you’ve at least listened to one, or more likely many, that emphasized the attitude of Jesus — “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).” May we believe it and may we teach it, but may we not live it with a morphed attitude of “not at all my own, but only others.” I have been guilty of being the creator of my own dark seasons because of that mindset. Maybe today God is trying to say to you, “not only others, but also yourself.”
I think about my kids when they were smaller, rolling out Play-Doh as wide as they could until it eventually broke. I showed them that the more playdoh you add to the ball, the wider it can stretch. What a thrilling concept, because now the width possibilities are endless (as long as Mommy buys more Play-Doh)! The same is true with us. We cannot reach any wider than we are willing to grow deep. If we try to do the reaching without the growing, we, too, will snap. Remember that old Sunday school song, “Deep and Wide?” The depth comes first.
I love The Message paraphrase of Matthew 11:28-30, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Sometimes, we live under the impression that God will just reward us with rest in return for our labor (serving others), but there is no such thing as passive rest; rest requires action. These actions sound like personal depth— come, get away, walk, work, watch, learn, keep company.
Who better to look at and learn how to do this from than the master of servant leadership Himself? Jesus practiced healthy rhythms, so that He could fulfill His calling from a place of rest instead of a need for rest from His calling. His responsibilities were far greater than any we’ll ever assume, so if rhythms were important to Him, they should be to us, all the more. Even science shows us the value of rhythms, proving that if our natural circadian rhythms are out-of-sync, it can affect our ability to survive. What are some “also yourself” rhythms that Jesus exemplified for us?
HE SET BOUNDARIES.“Now is not the right time...” John 7:6
HE RETREATED. “…He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” Matthew 14:13
HE PRAYED. “But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” Luke 5:16
HE CONNECTED. “Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.” Mark 6:31
HE FORGAVE. “..forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
HE WALKED (almost everywhere He went, even on water). “Jesus came toward them, walking on the water.” Matthew 14:25
Maybe our lives need some parameters, causing us to prioritize and make sure not every yes on our calendar is a yes to something we don’t want to do. Maybe our schedules need some margin for solitude, allowing us to really sit and listen for what God might be trying to say to us. Maybe our prayer life needs more time and place, consistency, praying out loud, and journaling— releasing and unloading our cares to make room for His rest. Maybe our souls need more safe, meaningful friendships and deep connections beyond our families and those we serve. Maybe our spirits need some more joy, no longer allowing other people’s choices to rob us of it. And maybe our bodies need to get outside, move, walk, and perhaps slow down and not be in such a hurry.
We practice these “not only others, but also yourself” rhythms not to avoid burnout, although it’s a nice byproduct, but to get closer to Jesus and grow deep before we reach wide. Imagine the span of darkness we could illuminate if a bunch of “little lights” shined brighter tomorrow.
“I’m writing to encourage you to fan into a flame and rekindle the fire of the spiritual gift God imparted to you…” 2 Timothy 1:6
Chelsea has been married to Marcus Briggs for 13 years, and together they serve as lead pastors of Riverpark Church in Shreveport, Louisiana. She is passionate about being on God’s mission in every setting, from kids’ school events to soccer fields to home with her husband and three incredible children.