“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
Colossians 1:28-29 (ESV)
It is always sad to hear that someone has “burned out” in his or her endeavors to minister in Christ’s name. In our driven culture it is almost a badge of honor to claim such. "Wow!" we think, "This person has given of themselves for others to the point of total exhaustion!" They are often without vision, passion, and energy to go on, but like a field-worker whose has had a heat stroke, they are weakened and fearful of succumbing again if they reengage.
Of course, the privilege and challenge of representing Jesus requires total commitment. There is nothing else that is worthy of such an outlay of life, but does it mean inevitable “burn out?” I think not. At least not in the sense we are speaking of here. Many Christians through the ages have burned out, but it was because they were being used as torches for Roman roads, as they had stood for Christ when it cost them their very lives.
Paul had tapped into a source of energy that was inexhaustible. Yes, he described it as toil and a struggle. He was aware that he was locked in battle with spiritual forces that could not be overcome with will-power and human zeal. He was proclaiming the counterintuitive message of a victorious Lamb who was slain. It was foolishness to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles. He was speaking to people who were blinded by the god of this world and bound by the cords of sin they could not break, even when exhorted to do so by their leaders. No matter how many hours he spent in service, he could not get the job done—by himself.
Yet Paul had discovered that he was living a life that had already been lived in the Messiah. Jesus had accomplished his work and been crucified, but he never fell victim to the despair of emotional burnout. His secret? He was so conscious of his fellowship with the Father that he only spoke what he heard and only did what he saw the Father doing. Now Paul declares that he is living in the power of this same life. Jesus is expressing his life through his representative, and it makes all the difference. Jesus has defeated the enemy that holds so many captive. He has paid the penalty of those beset with guilt and shame. He has sent the Spirit that raised him from the grave to live in his representatives and we can depend on him to enforce the authority his has been given from the Father.
Both Jesus and Paul worked and fought from a position of “rest.” They had been sent by one who abundantly supplies everything needed to get the assigned job done. They rested in their mission because it was not initiated, nor energized by their own strength. That is our privilege, too.
There is more! When we have failed to depend on his strength and found ourselves depleted, he offers this invitation: “Come unto 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” (Matthew 11:28-30).