At one point in time, I was serving in seven ministries and had five church meetings over a single weekend. I’m not trying to tell you how holy I was. In fact, I’m telling you how foolish I was.
I was so busy, rushing from meeting to meeting, trying to complete the many tasks I had. On the outside, I looked ultra-holy, but inside—and to God—I was the furthest thing from holiness.
I dreaded the weekends because I knew I had to face the onslaught of meetings, rehearsals, and work. I dragged my tired self to these meetings, and looked forward to their end. I prayed in these meetings without meaning what I said to God.
I became short-tempered, and my words and actions lacked love. All I could see was the mistakes of others, instead of the fact that they were already giving their best to God. I was miserable and living in sin.
Gradually, I found myself drifting further from God. I just skimmed through the Bible verses included in the devotional, and didn’t attempt to think further about what the verses meant for me. I was ashamed to come to God in my sinful state, and masked that guilt with the excuse that my many hours spent in ministry meant that I didn’t really need to spend time with God in quiet. Eventually, I stopped doing my quiet time altogether.I thought I was in this state because I was serving too much, so I decided to take a break from all my ministry commitments.
To be honest, my intention for taking the break was to rest and stop having to work with the people that I felt bitter against. But God graciously used that time for my good and worked in my heart. During this time, I realized that I had been asking the wrong question (“Is it ok to say no to serving?”), and perhaps the more helpful question would have been, “How can I serve with the right heart?”
Here are four points that helped me realign my focus:
1. Know Your Limits
For most of my Christian life, there was joy in service. God had always given me grace to see that whatever gifts I had belonged to Him, and that in service I was simply returning them back to Him. Sundays were the best day of the week for me. I felt delighted to be in church every week. I enjoyed serving God, and I enjoyed His presence with me as I served His people.
But that eventually changed as I took on more serving opportunities. I wish I had the wisdom then to know when and how to say no. When people approached me to join them in ministry efforts, I just nodded my head like a good Christian girl, fully knowing that my schedule was already jam-packed. This put me in a continuous downward spiral, stealing away my joy.
I personally think the loss of joy is our warning to re-evaluate and realign our lives. Unlike happiness, which is a fleeting emotion usually dependent on circumstances, joy is the deep sense of gladness and pleasure God grants even in unpleasant circumstances. Even when ministry is tiring, it can still be enjoyable. Experiencing delight in ministry is God’s gift to us.
Before we agree to serving in an additional area, it is helpful to evaluate our current schedule and ministry commitments. I found that saying yes to so many things didn’t just jeopardize my effectiveness in my current ministry commitments, but also my own relationship with God. That turned out to be a costly sacrifice.
God delights much more in our willing and joyful hearts than in our acts of service done out of obligation. If by taking on more responsibilities at church, I am eroding my joy in and relationship with God, then it’s not worth it.
2. Know That God Grants Rest
I used to think that busying myself with service made God happier with me. With the assumption that when I did more for God, He was more pleased with me, I refused to pass up any opportunity to serve.
However, as I took my break and spent more time with God, I learned that resting is perfectly biblical. In fact, God Himself rested on the Sabbath after He had created the universe (Genesis 2:2). In doing so, He set the perfect example for us to follow.
We rest—physically and spiritually—after a day’s work. I was reminded in Psalms 127:1-2 (NLT) that it is “useless” to be working “anxiously” from dusk to dawn, because God gives His beloved children rest. These verses do not lead us to stop working completely, but remind us to have an attitude of dependence and surrender to God as we work.
I reflected on the nights I spent fussing over my work, making sure it was perfect, and I now grieve over how misplaced my focus was. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with striving for excellence. The problem surfaces when the pursuit of excellence is self-satisfying instead of God-satisfying. That becomes an unhealthy obsession which doesn’t please God. God didn’t call us to be perfect workers, He calls us to be His children who enjoy His presence as we serve.
3. Know Why You’re Serving
If you’re going to say yes because it makes you look holy or nice, then please don’t. If you’re going to say yes because you’re honored that someone approached you, please don’t. Ironically, these were some of the underlying reasons I repeatedly committed myself to the different ministries.
Of course, these reasons were sugar-coated by Christian clichés, like wanting to glorify God with my gifts, or using my time more wisely for God. But with all the wrong motivations deep inside me, it was difficult to press on when fatigue took over and the results were disappointing. Sure, the praise, the attention from the people at church, as well as the boost to my so-called Christian reputation made me feel good. But in the end, it didn’t fill me with the joy that only God can give.
Motivations such as the desire to use our gifts for God, or seeking to be in ministry with a community of believers, are good intentions to have. But it is important for us to carefully examine our real motives for saying yes. If our underlying intentions are still sinful, it would be wise to wait and ask God to take away any selfish thoughts, replacing them with Him instead. When we are genuinely convicted of our God-given purposes to serve, we serve Him with true joy and willingness.
4. Know Who You’re Serving
Although I looked ultra-holy on the outside, I knew that I was a hypocrite—disguising the act of serving myself as serving God. I was serving my heart that clamored for compliments and attention from those around me.
During my break, I noticed—for the first time in the 18-odd years that I’ve been in my church—that there were a group of faithful aunties and uncles who came early every Sunday morning to boil huge pots of hot water to make coffee for the congregation. People rarely went up to them to say thanks, and they were always “invisible”. Yet, they did this faithfully without complaint.
That experience made me question who my audience was when I first wanted to play the guitar in service. If God was truly my only audience, would I be content and joyful if I played behind a veil, never recognized or thanked by the congregation? Did I really play for God and God alone?
Inevitably, some ministries are more “in-the-spotlight” and well-recognized than others. As His children serving in these areas, it’s easy to get caught up with the applause and recognition of man, forgetting the One who is really watching us every moment. But, the reality is that our selfish hearts will never be satisfied with the praise of man. We need our Father Himself to be pleased with us for us to truly enjoy serving Him.
I took a six-month break from all my ministry commitments, and learned to enjoy God and His presence again. During that time, God convicted me of my selfish intentions, my hardened heart, and my lack of love towards my brothers and sisters.
Whether you’re considering serving for the first time, or considering taking on a new ministry, I really do pray that you do not serve for the sake of serving or for others. It leads to a heart of misery, bitterness, and extreme fatigue—unpleasant realities that I’ve experienced.
After all, God is not looking at what we do, He’s looking at the heart with which we do it.